Remote Mentoring for Effective Integration of Junior Employees

Remote Mentoring for Effective Integration of Junior Employees July 20, 2022

Forward-looking organizations use hybrid and remote mentoring to solve one of the biggest challenges in hybrid and remote work: on-the-job training and integration of junior employees. Yet despite solving this major problem, such mentoring programs pairing recently-hired staff with senior employees are all-too-rare.

 

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Instead of using this best practice methodology, many leaders simply complain about how hybrid and remote work undermines on-the-job training and employee integration, and try to force employees to return to the office.

 

In fact, in my interviews with 47 mid-level and 14 senior leaders at 12 organizations, I found their hybrid and remote work environments failed to have effective structures to integrate, onboard, and train junior staff. Doing so harms employee engagement, and may help explain Gallup’s 2022 measure of employee engagement. It found that only 32% of employees surveyed felt engaged, a decrease from 34% in 2021 and 36% in 2020. In order to address these concerns about a decline in staff engagement, organizations need to be aware of the issues that employees face. Senior leadership and management need to adopt the best practices for leading hybrid and remote teams for mentoring employees in the future of work.

 

Remote Mentoring and Workforce Challenges

 

Jamal, the chief human resources officer (CHRO) of a middle-market software development company, struggled with remote employee engagement, training, and integration.

 

From early on in the pandemic, the company noticed that its recently-hired employees struggled to get the on-the-job training they needed to thrive in the company. Moreover, they didn’t form the kind of close bonds to their teammates – and especially across the company – as did in-person staff hired before the pandemic.

 

Mary, the company’s CEO, felt they had no choice but to bring everyone back to an office-centric culture. After all, how would they continue as a company if they couldn’t effectively integrate junior staff?

 

However, Jamal knew that forcing employees to come to the office would seriously undermine retention, engagement, and productivity, and pushed back against Mary’s proposal. Instead, he suggested bringing me in as a consultant specializing in hybrid and remote collaboration to help the company address this issue.

 

Cognitive Barriers to Creating a Remote Mentoring Culture

 

My initial analysis revealed that the company transitioned to telework abruptly as part of the March 2020 lockdowns. Perceiving this shift as a very brief emergency, they focused, naturally and appropriately, on accomplishing the necessary tasks of the organization.

 

However, as the weeks stretched into months, the company – like the vast majority of other companies – transposed their office culture-style of collaboration to remote work. They didn’t take the time to figure out best practices for remote collaboration, instead continuing to try to integrate, train, and engage employees by using office-based practices.

 

That’s like forcing a square peg into a round hole. You can do it if you push hard enough, but you will break off the corners. In this case, the pegs mean the critical factors to integrate and train junior employees: they’ll do the work, but struggle to develop and grow. That peg will do in an emergency, but in the longer run, it will wobble and eventually break.

 

It was important to educate the C-suite that leaders often fail to adopt best practices for the future of work because of dangerous judgment errors called cognitive biases. These mental blindspots, which often lead to wishful thinking, result in poor strategic decisions. They render leaders unable to resist following their gut instead of relying on best practices.

 

One of the biggest dangerous judgment errors impeding effective hybrid and remote work in an organization is called functional fixedness. When we have a certain perception of how systems should work, we ignore other possible functions, uses, and behaviors. We do this even if these new functions, uses, and behaviors offer a better fit for a changed situation and would address our problems better.

 

Thus, the company used its previous methods of on-the-job training and integration of new employees. Their traditional on-the-job training and integration involved team members showing each other how to do things in the moment during working together.

 

Working in separate home offices prevented such synchronous on-the-job training. Junior staff had to send emails and Slack messages to team members, which introduced friction and inhibited effective in-the-moment training.

 

Such friction also decreased the ability of junior team members to bond with experienced staff. Such bonding traditionally happened as part of the moment-to-moment interaction and on-the-job training, as well as in water-cooler and hallway conversations. The C-suite felt frustrated that such bonding decreased, as they knew that building such connections for newer staff was key for a healthy company culture. Indeed, other companies noticed weakening bonds during the pandemic.

 

Remote Mentoring to Solve Junior Employee Integration

 

To address the problem of integrating junior employees in remote and hybrid settings requires an effective structured mentoring program. You need to pair up senior staff members with junior staff members for virtual mentoring sessions. If the mentor and mentee are co-located, they may also meet in person, which would facilitate trust and collaboration, but fully virtual mentoring also works great.

 

Make sure to have one senior staff member from the junior colleague’s immediate team. The goal of the senior person within their own team is to help the person with on-the-job learning, understanding group dynamics, and professional growth.

 

Also include two from outside the team. One should be from the junior staff members’ business unit, and another one should be from a different unit. At least one should be located in a different geographical area.

 

These two mentors will be needed to overcome one of the key problems in company culture for remote/hybrid workers: the decrease in cross-functional connections across staff. Fortunately, during the epidemic, scholars discovered that connecting junior staff working remotely with different senior staff was a very effective way to extend the network of junior staff. Follow this research to help junior team members fit into the broader organizational culture while also facilitating cross-company intra-team collaboration.

 

Remote Mentoring Meetings

 

The senior staff member from the person’s own team should meet with their mentee monthly in a brief 20-30 minute meeting, and go through a checklist. Below is a sample that you can adapt to your needs:  do not feel obliged to go through all of them at one meeting, work on them over time.

 

  • How did you (meaning the mentee) do on the topics that we discussed last time?
  • How confident do you feel right now in your ability to do your individual tasks, and what would make you feel more confident?
  • What kind of questions do you have about your own individual tasks?
  • What kind of obstacles do you see in doing your individual tasks effectively?
  • What resources, information, or skills would you need to do your individual tasks better?
  • How confident are you feeling right now about your role on the team, and what would make you more confident?
  • How well do you feel you are collaborating with fellow team members?
  • How well do you feel you are collaborating with the team leader?
  • What kind of obstacles do you see in doing your collaborative tasks effectively?
  • What resources, information, or skills would you need to do your collaborative tasks better?
  • How confident are you feeling right now about your professional growth and what would make you feel more confident?
  • What kind of obstacles do you see to growing professionally?
  • What resources, information, or skills would you need to improve your professional growth?

The goal of the senior people outside their team – whether their business unit or outside their business unit – is to help the junior staff member address the lack of connections from outside their team and contribute to their professional growth. They should also meet monthly for 20-30 minutes, and go through the following checklist, again adapting it to their needs:

 

  • How did you do the topics that we discussed last time?
  • How did the connections that I helped you make last month work out?
  • What do you feel you did well, and what could improve the way you approach making such connections?
  • What kind of obstacles do you see to making connections effectively?
  • What kind of resources, information, or skills would you need to improve your ability to make such connections?
  • How confident do you feel right now about how you make connections and your current set of connections, and what would make you more confident?
  • What kind of connections would you want me to help you make this month?
  • What would you like to know about how the company functions?
  • How confident are you feeling right now about your professional growth and what would make you feel more confident?
  • What kind of obstacles do you see to growing professionally?
  • What resources, information, or skills would you need to improve your professional growth?

Remote Mentoring via Virtual Coworking

 

To facilitate on-the-job learning through virtual settings, mentors should co-work with each of their mentees for at least an hour each week. That involves the mentor and mentee signing on to a videoconference call and then each person working on their own tasks, but being able to ask questions if they have them. After all, much of on-the-job training comes from coworkers answering questions and showing less experienced staff what to do on individual tasks in the moment.

 

First, get on a videoconference call. Then, share what each plans to work on during this period. Next, turn microphones off but leave speakers on with video optional, and then each would work on their own tasks.

 

This experience replicates the benefit of a shared cubicle space, where a junior staff member works alongside senior staff, but on their own work. As less experienced team members have questions, they can ask them and get them quickly answered. Most of the time, the answer will be sufficient. Sometimes, a more experienced team member will do screensharing to demonstrate how to do a task. Another option is to use a virtual whiteboard to demonstrate the task graphically.

 

Furthermore, sometimes mentors and mentees will just share about themselves and chat about how things are going in work and life. That’s the benefit of a shared cubicle space, and virtual coworking replicates that experience, helping build bonds and integrate junior staff into company culture.

 

Implementing Remote Mentoring

 

Jamal got Mary to agree to implement remote mentoring and evaluate how it impacted junior employees for six months. Then, the C-suite would make a call on whether the company needed to force its employees to come to the office.

 

We surveyed how junior team members felt about their current on-the-job training, integration, engagement, and cross-functional connections. Then, we measured these same numbers again in six months. We found junior staff reported a 36% improvement in on-the-job training, a 43% improvement in integration, a 23% boost in engagement, and 17% more cross-functional connections.

 

Separately, the company found that junior staff retention rates and productivity both increased over this six-month period, by 28% and 13% respectively. These substantial improvements helped convince Mary and the rest of the C-suite that the biggest problem they saw for continuing a flexible approach to work arrangements was solved. They could now stop worrying about the long-term impact on their company’s main resource – their people – and focus instead on how to collaborate and innovate most effectively in remote and hybrid teams.

 

Conclusion

 

Many companies hired a substantial portion of their workforce during the pandemic. Cultivating junior employee engagement and integrating them into the company culture requires effective on-the-job training and building bonds to existing staff. Traditional office-centric methods to do so fare poorly in hybrid and remote settings. By contrast, an effective structured remote mentoring program offers an excellent solution to these problems and constitutes a critical component of hybrid and remote work best practices.

 

Key takeaway

 

On-the-job training and integration of recently-hired staff is one of the biggest challenges for hybrid and remote work. Remote mentoring is a best practice that offers an excellent solution to this challenge…> Click to tweet

Image credits: William Fortunato

Originally Published at Disaster Avoidance Experts on

 


Bio: Dr. Gleb Tsipursky helps tech and insurance executives drive collaboration, innovation, and retention in hybrid work. He serves as the CEO of the boutique future-of-work consultancy Disaster Avoidance Experts, which helps organizations adopt a hybrid-first culture, instead of incrementally improving on the traditional office-centric culture. A best-selling author of 7 books, he is especially well-known for his global best-sellers Never Go With Your Gut: How Pioneering Leaders Make the Best Decisions and Avoid Business Disasters (Career Press, 2019) and The Blindspots Between Us: How to Overcome Unconscious Cognitive Bias and Build Better Relationships (New Harbinger, 2020). His newest book is Leading Hybrid and Remote Teams: A Manual on Benchmarking to Best Practices for Competitive Advantage (Intentional Insights, 2021). His writing was translated into Chinese, Korean, German, Russian, Polish, Spanish, French, and other languages. His cutting-edge thought leadership was featured in over 650 articles and 550 interviews in prominent venues. They include Harvard Business Review, Fortune, Inc. Magazine, CBS News, Time, Business Insider, Government Executive, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Fast Company, USA Today, and elsewhere. His expertise comes from over 20 years of consulting, coaching, and speaking and training for mid-size and large organizations ranging from Aflac to Xerox. It also comes from his research background as a cognitive scientist. After spending 8 years getting a PhD and lecturing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he served for 7 years as a professor at the Ohio State University’s Decision Sciences Collaborative and History Department. He lives in Columbus, Ohio (Go Bucks!) and in his free time, he makes sure to spend abundant quality time with his wife to avoid his personal life turning into a disaster. Contact him at Gleb[at]DisasterAvoidanceExperts[dot]com, follow him on LinkedIn @dr-gleb-tsipursky, Twitter @gleb_tsipursky, Instagram @dr_gleb_tsipursky, Facebook @DrGlebTsipursky, Medium @dr_gleb_tsipursky, YouTube, and RSS, and get a free copy of the Assessment on Dangerous Judgment Errors in the Workplace by signing up for the free Wise Decision Maker Course at https://disasteravoidanceexperts.com/newsletter/.

 

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