In my last post, I shared how remote work requires shifting many ways of working and thinking about work.  Remote workers often find new ways to improve their work through consistently learning new skills and tools for online collaboration.  However, the most effective way of learning is finding that mentor-in-the-moment that can introduce you to the skill or tool as you discover it.

I previously outlined that the best mentor-in-the-moment has a few key qualities:

  • Humility, patience, and availability.
  • They realize the best learning happens in safe struggles
  • They understand they may not always be your best teacher
  • They have a long term view of the benefits of mentoring

The last post described the importance of humility, patience, and the availability of that mentor. In this post, we’ll focus on the other characteristics.

Safe Struggles Provide the Best Learning Opportunities

Let’s return to the story of one of my first mentors (Bob) from the last post

Sometimes Bob would give me a section of the code to work through on my own.  He understood, like most good mentors, that the best learning happens when the student wrestles with the concepts on their own for a while.  He would then swing by for one of his typical check-ins and we would talk through the code.  Again, we would play the game of “who can come up with the most efficient solution” and congratulate the winner.  It was usually Bob, but not always.  This strengthened my confidence in my learning.  

Sometimes, Bob would point out some potential problems with my solution.  Other times, he would ask me several questions to see how I thought through the logic of the different options.  When he liked the solution, he would often say “good job” and give a little nod on the way back to his desk.  I’d often see him take notes as soon as he got back as if he was capturing highlights of the conversation to capture what he had learned.

Bob understood that his daily check-ins and our conversations about the code provided a safety net for both of us to explore the best solutions for the project.

When integrating new team members into a remote team, you might consider what remote experience they had before.  If they worked hybrid remote before, you may need to talk about the different types of remote teams.  If the new team member is shifting from an office-only experience (and possibly a horrible remote experience during the pandemic), you might want to talk about the key to better remote or hybrid remote environments. Or you could discuss the importance of choice in remote work and how to balance that with the needs of the client and team.  Provide frequent opportunities to check in with them in their first couple of weeks.  What might they still be struggling with?  Have they discovered any insights that might benefit other team members or others who might join the team later?

It’s ok if they struggle a little bit as they learn new ways of working.  Just make sure they have some safety measures where they can get clarity on those struggles and be supported in their learning

When the Mentor is NOT Always Your Mentor

Surprisingly, Bob did not know everything about the code!  He would be clear to share what were his boundaries of knowledge.  When I crossed one of these boundaries, Bob would say “I really don’t know, you might want to talk to Sarah or Tom about that part.”

Bob realized as any good mentor would, that good mentors realize when other mentors should be called in to help.  They don’t assume to know everything the mentee needs, but they do have a good network of connections and can suggest others to reach out to for help.

While I have years of experience in remote work and I train, coach, consult and write frequently about remote work, I don’t like the labels “remote work expert.”  The remote work world changes quickly (even faster during the pandemic).  While you may have the best tools and practices today, they may not be the best tomorrow.  

This is why I prefer the label “distributed agile guide”.  I stay connected with new technologies and new approaches. I can guide people to suggest solutions that may work best for their context.  More important for me, I maintain a network of connections with remote facilitators, distributed coaches, online managers, and experienced remote product developers whom I trust and learn from frequently.  I realize I may be the best mentor-in-the-moment, but sometimes a different context may require someone else’s expertise.

a board game – Photo by Karthik Balakrishnan on Unsplash

Can You Play the Long Game of Mentoring?

Bob never was given the role of mentor.  Mentoring is just what Bob did in our office.  In fact, he was just as well known for this in the office as he was known for his coding skills.  Bob realized that by mentoring people new to the company or new to the profession, he would have better colleagues in the future.  Bob never sought a following, but everyone who worked with him appreciated the opportunity.  You always learned something from Bob and Bob always learned from others.

While some mentors build up followers to boost their ego, demonstrate their “expertise” or gain political power in an organization, the best mentors realize there is a better goal.  They know that by helping mentor those around them, they make the environment better for all.

For me, I enjoy remote work.  It has brought me a worldwide collection of colleagues where I learn unique ways of working and even more about their unique cultures. It has also brought me unique opportunities. So I’ll continue to mentor-in-the-moment so we all can have better remote work in the future.

(P.S., I share more about these ideas and these unique ways of working in my newsletter.  You are welcome to join me there.)