Soft skills: creating space for mentorship in a hybrid workforce
What are the opportunities for learning and mentorship in a hybrid workplace? As remote and hybrid work becomes a more permanent fixture, leaders need to be more intentional about the social dynamic of their workforce
Although offices are reopening, it’s becoming clear that hybrid and remote work will remain permanent options for many knowledge workers. According to a report by Owl Labs, one in three employees say they would quit their job if they couldn’t work in a remote setting after the pandemic. The flexibility hybrid or remote work arrangements provide is hard to surrender for families and commuters in particular.
In preparation, savvy companies are investing in the hard tools required to run remote teams. Almost 40 per cent of employers have invested in new video technology upgrades to support hybrid collaboration. However, hybrid work requires more than hardware — it will also require leadership investment into the soft skills and success of workers both at home and in the office.
With some teams at home and some in the office, how can company leadership foster the mentorship and connections that help many professionals accelerate their career progression? This article addresses the core challenges and opportunities for management interested in making sure career opportunities are open for all their employees.
Connection challenges of hybrid work
There are real challenges to running remote teams, and research indicates that socialisation and guidance are top-of-mind for employees and leadership.
While some employees don’t need close friendships at work, research shows that many do value social connection. In survey data from 2,000 managers and employees in 2018, two-thirds of respondents reported they would stay at their company longer if they had more friendships there.
Hybrid work at an organisation that doesn’t encourage connection can create risks for those who feel disconnected from bonding closely with other employees. As a result, employees can feel easily bored, which leads to burnout, and they are more likely to look elsewhere for opportunities.
The challenges of disconnection aren’t confined to friendships, either. Some senior leaders express concern about how to socialise remote recruits and provide adequate mentorship and investment. With the trend dubbed ‘The Great Resignation’ causing leadership to think through opportunities for employee retention and long-term career planning, now is the time to ensure key employees don’t feel left out because they opt for remote work arrangements.
Ultimately, there is little hard evidence that hybrid work arrangements are inherently anti-connection. Companies have to explore ways to create mentorship opportunities and career progression for hybrid workers without relying on the spontaneity of in-office run-ins and impromptu chats. We just need to adapt our work environments for change.
‘There is little hard evidence that hybrid work arrangements are inherently anti-connection…’
Overcoming these challenges requires management to assess the quality, consistency and fairness in mentorship and training opportunities — moving away from old paradigms to help both remote and in-office employees feel supported and heard.
Here’s how organisations can accomplish this shift:
1. Centralise Project Communication
When employees feel they have a purpose in their work, they’re more likely to engage and stay longer at an organisation. The most crucial action employers can take to accomplish this is ensuring everyone is on the same page — without haphazardly plugging a remote team into endless meetings.
Of course, meetings do help with vision-setting and communication. Starting a major project or organisational shift? Have a virtual session that includes every involved employee and communicate the company’s plan and vision. That way, people know the priorities and interact more with senior leadership to create buy-in at the outset.
Then, move to an asynchronous communication method to keep teams united. Make sure project goals, progress and purpose are communicated centrally where employees can easily access information regardless of their hours or location. This might look like virtual project management platforms to divide tasks, shared Google documents or other technology that supports real-time updates without requiring everyone to be on the same schedule.
This method is not only productive, it encourages every employee to feel seen and valued. With project tasks and goals being handled in a shared environment, management can more easily gauge employee contributions and evaluate ‘stuck’ moments without relying on in-person social cues.
2. Lean into planned socialisation
It might feel awkward for people accustomed to the water cooler effect, but with a hybrid team, spontaneous chatting isn’t going to be enough. Employers have to be more intentional about making the remote workplace a space where friendship thrives, and that means being thoughtful about creating social opportunities that are pre-planned.
‘Employers needs to be more intentional about creating pre-planned social opportunities…’
Professionally, one-on-one communication is critical. Consider facilitating one-on-one or small group mentorships so workers have a chance to connect outside of a large Zoom meeting. Let employees share new learning experiences, offer guidance and set the foundation for growth.
Social events like virtual happy hours, show-and-tells and virtual game nights are also scheduled activities that can open up opportunities for engagement. Sure, not every employee is going to be into a virtual icebreaker. But making the effort and encouraging participation goes a long way in helping remote employees feel less socially isolated from their co-workers.
3. Establish consistent check-ins
Being consistent with human connection is essential. This is true regardless of an employee’s work location — inconsistent management and support is felt even if a worker is sitting only feet away from their supervisor every weekday.
To cultivate human connection in the workplace, professionals need to dedicate frequent time for feedback, personal sharing, and praise. It’s necessary to create a culture of support whether employees have more conversations on the phone or in person.
Pre-established check-ins for mentorship and discussion will make a significant difference for hybrid employees. Managers who commit the time to touch base, rather than reacting to problems as they arise, will help workers feel supported regardless of how much in-office face time they receive.
4. Evaluate management biases
Companies embracing remote work and hybrid workforces are bound to run into obstacles with this shift. Re-orienting leadership and employees toward a new norm is challenging, and it takes time to realign organisational culture and priorities. Regular reflection and assessment will help leaders create a smoother transition for their teams.
Ask hard questions about what this shift means for career opportunities. Do mentorship and promotion opportunities seem more available for employees who regularly appear at the office? What is the breakdown of employees who opt for remote arrangements and those who prefer the office environment?
Studies indicate that employees more eager to show up at the office are more likely to be male — so if leadership is not willing to reassess their progression criteria, they could be overlooking unintentional blind spots and biases in who they promote and why they promote them.
The aforementioned communication strategies will already help management adjust. Staying in touch with employees’ challenges, career goals and contributions is essential to finding growth opportunities for workers both at home and in the office. Setting intentions to challenge blind spots and evaluate employees fairly is a goal that can benefit the entire organisation.
Mentorship for every employee
Even as companies may experience the challenges of a hybrid workforce and retaining top talent, it’s more critical than ever to push for more connection and mentorship in the workplace.
So, while many organisations’ hybrid strategies are still in their infancy, they must consider new solutions to create a welcoming atmosphere in the workplace — and in the virtual workspace, too. In the process, organisations may be surprised at the benefits thoughtful realignment has for the company as a whole.