Remote work requires shifting many ways of working and thinking about work.  Many people have struggled with this during the pandemic and assume it will take years to get them adjusted to this new way of working.  Or is there a faster way?  One way to be effective is to find someone who already works well online and work with them.  I refer to this as “mentor-in-the-moment.”

Finding the Best Remote Mentor-in-the-Moment

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

These qualities remind me of one of my early mentors, Bob.  Bob was a salty and seasoned senior software engineer that was known for resolving any problem.  I had the good fortune of being assigned to the same project Bob was working on in my career.

Humility of a Remote Mentor Comes in Many Forms

The best mentors thread humility Into their work.  They are confident in their abilities, but they know the world always changes.  So it’s best for the mentor to keep an open mind and be willing to learn as well as teach.  Sometimes as they teach, they learn more about the topic.  If they are passionate about the topic, they make themselves available to others to share the knowledge.  They realize that sharing and teaching will expose gaps in their knowledge and help them find and fill those gaps faster.

When I first met Bob, I was working in Orlando and he was in Philadelphia.  The project I worked on had a very short deadline.  So I was asked to work from the Philly office.  Because I was at a temporary desk, I was usually sitting outside the normal team pods.  When Bob met me, he would make an effort to stop by my desk, say hello, and check in on my work.  This wasn’t so much to check up on me as it was a casual way to see if I needed help.  

Sometimes, Bob would ask me to come to his desk and review some of his code.  At first, this made no sense.  Bob’s expertise was well known throughout the company.  But yet, he would walk through his code, line by line, and ask me what I thought.  Sometimes I would have questions.  Other times I would ask him why he did things a certain way.  He would patiently and elaborately explain.  

Sometimes, Bob would even try the ways I suggested and give me feedback.  He would explain where he may have stumbled with this type of problem in the past.

I frequently read up on the latest changes to the programming language as Bob did.  When Bob and I discovered this in each other, we would make a game out of “who could find a new and more efficient way to solve the problem.”

I always felt I was learning and exploring with Bob and never being “taught at” by a wise mentor.  It was never about ego with Bob.  It was all about learning.

When Working Remote, You Are Always Learning

Bob showed me how always learning not only helps you continually grow, but can also impact teammates.  

As I’ve worked with remote teams over the years, this mindset of always learning becomes critically important as technology and situations change for the remote worker.  Most remote workers tend to be resilient as they leverage changes in location and time to optimize their work and their day.  

How do remote workers juggle tools, calendars, and locations effectively?  They may be part of one or more online communities where they can share tips, ideas, and new ways of working.  They may even share new tools.  They may hold casual question-n-answer sessions (either at a shared location or an online gathering) where they talk with colleagues about a certain type of work and how to make it more effective.

By swimming in these pools of learning, they demonstrate that they are willing to teach and to learn.  They demonstrate that humility, patience, and making themselves available help them and everyone else.  They understand that learning is a game best played together where everyone wins.

Each remote worker becomes a mentor-in-the-moment.

(Next time, I’ll share the importance of safe struggles in mentoring and remote work.)

Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash