How to mentor a remote team

Managing a remote team can be liberating. Dousing the flames of social issues, mediating office thermostat disputes, budgeting for Christmas decorations; these smaller issues melt away. When your team becomes location independent you become free to really focus on developing them as people.

Not having a desk to summon your team to can also present challenges as a manager. Being a mentor to a set of remote workers is different in many ways, but the basic skills you need remain the same. A good remote mentor will still…

  • Be a great problem solver
  • Have experience and be willing to share it
  • Hold mentees accountable
  • Have great communication skills

But there are unique challenges that come with mentoring remotely.

Here, we’ll go through some things that you’re going to need to do a bit differently for your remote workers.

Commit

When everyone’s on a 9-5 in the office, getting a regular mentoring session into your schedule is easy. Once your team is spread across the country, or indeed the world, getting the time to actually carry out mentoring sessions becomes trickier. The first thing to do is let your team know you are wholly committed to developing them professionally.

Next, you need to work out when you’re actually going to do it. Remote working is supposed to give everyone flexibility, but it’s still ok to demand availability at set times. If your mentoring schedule gets too wishy-washy then you’re never going to get the sit-down that your mentees deserve.

Things don’t need to be carved in stone, but an expectation of a weekly conversation about development will let everyone know they need to be blocking off time for you.

Be available

Once you’ve established with your team that you’re there to work with them, you need to figure out the how of the mentoring relationship. You’ll already have in place comms channels for work, and these will probably be transferable to general mentoring.

Having a dedicated comms channel for mentoring can mean your advice doesn’t get lost in the general work noise. If your team uses Slack for messaging, do your personal development through WhatsApp, for example. Video calls are a great way to build a relationship with your remote team because you’re still getting most of the communication cues you’d get from an in-person meeting.

Being available also means making time for ad-hoc mentoring. Life isn’t always plain sailing; a team member finding the challenge of time management overwhelming or someone struggling with communicating with another team member can’t wait until your weekly mentoring session. As a manager, you’re still entitled to your own downtime but you also need to be flexible so you can be there to support your team when they need it.

Build relationships

One of the keys to a successful mentor-mentee relationship is having an open working relationship. There needs to be honesty on both sides, they need to be comfortable telling you they’re struggling and you have to be open to sharing your failures.

It’s not so easy to become comfortable with someone when your whole relationship is solely through online communication. Some things you can build into your mentorship include:

  • Meeting face-to-face if geography allows it, video calling is the next best option for internationally-based remote workers
  • Ask about your mentee’s well-being, it’ll add a different dynamic to the relationship and show you care about more than deliverables
  • Have off-topic conversations so you can find common ground outside of your work; with your time being more structured it can feel like every conversation must be work focussed

Create networks

Mentoring isn’t just about your direct relationship with the mentee. Sometimes the best advice you can offer is for them to go and speak with someone else. Sharing your professional network with your mentee is modelling great behaviour and also making sure you’re not taking on things too far outside your expertise.

Peer mentoring is also a great way to boost skills between your team. As a leader, you’re never going to have all of the answers, particularly if you’re working in a highly skilled field. Somewhere on your team you will have the expertise that someone needs, so setting up networks for your colleagues to help each other is a valuable tool. It will also show you has the potential to move towards a leadership role in the future.

Be challenging

Just like if you were in an office environment, you need to be setting goals for your team. They might look different and you’ll monitor them differently though.

Rather than focusing on the time that your team works, you should look at the outcomes they produce. You’ve gone remote to get a more productive workforce, so don’t be surprised if you’re getting work submitted with less hours logged for it.

Make sure you’re pushing your team to be their best selves, set goals with them that are going to get them where they want to be professionally. Career progression shouldn’t stall when your team isn’t in the office every day, so be sure to stretch them.

Rewards and recognition

Once you’ve got your team performing at their best, with a set of goals and a career path laid out, you need to recognise their achievements. We’ve got a list of some employee rewards that work well for remote workers, to give you some ideas…

  • Experiences go down well, especially with younger workers – send them to a concert or to an escape room.
  • Giving people equity in the company that they are building with you – this is what Vestd is all about.
  • Add extra hours or days on to someone’s holiday allocation, if they’re performed exceptionally you can even offer travel as a reward.

The take home

Whilst the basic tenets of mentoring still hold firm when you’re working with a remote team, the way you work is going to need to adapt. You’ll need more structure at first so that you and your team can get used to the new normal.

Once you’ve got everything in place…

  • Comms
  • Networks
  • Goals
  • Rewards

Managing people across multiple sites and even countries should feel very similar to - if not easier - than running a team from the office.