How To Find A Mentor When You Work Remotely
Working from home is a huge perk that so many employees are taking advantage of these days. In fact, financial company Fundera reports that in 2017, more than 3.7 million people worked from home at least half the time in the United States. Although remote work allows people to save time and money on their commute, work around other commitments like children and even work more than they would in the office, it can get lonely.
According to Buffer’s State of Remote Work 2018, loneliness and lack of collaboration/communication are the top two struggles among employees who work from home. Loneliness can really have an impact on an employee’s productivity, and it can even affect the connections they make with colleagues. These pitfalls may counteract the benefits in the long run.
It can be difficult to leave your home office during the day when you’re a remote worker. While other employees are busy socializing with their colleagues in the office, you might be sipping coffee alone at your desk. But don’t let that loneliness ruin your ability to get ahead in your career. Instead, focus on finding a mentor.
Mentors can make a huge difference in the way you work. They offer valuable advice, human interaction and friendship to both office and remote workers.
“It can be a challenge to work remotely because you feel somewhat isolated,” Sharon McDonald-Barnes told Swirled. The University of Phoenix alumna is the human resources business partner for oil and energy company Freeport LNG in Texas and has had several mentors over the years.
“To a certain extent, working remotely gives you an advantage in looking for mentors because you’re not tied to a desk or an office, and you might have some flexibility to work from a Starbucks or a coffee shop. You can always work there and then strike up a conversation with people.”
Finding A Mentor
Going off of what McDonald-Barnes said, go out and meet new people while you have the flexibility. As a remote worker, you can basically work from anywhere with a secure network connection, so grab your laptop and hit up the local coffee shop. You could end up striking up a conversation with another person who also works remotely. That person could ultimately become a mentor — or at least a peer with whom you can to discuss career worries or ideas.
If you can’t physically work from a new place, aim to attend events before, during or after work. As a remote employee, you most likely don’t have a commute, which means you can easily sign off at the end of the day and head to an event ASAP. Attending networking events not only increases your chances of finding a mentor, but also helps you build a network of like-minded people who can help you feel less lonely, too.
If you’re more of an introvert and don’t enjoy large groups of people, start looking for a mentor within your own network. A great place to start? Your parents’ friends.
“Look for people who admire you the most or that inspire you, motivate you and are accessible to you,” McDonald-Barnes said. “To get the best of a good mentorship relationship, aim to meet someone who’s trustworthy and confidential because your mentor will be your sounding board and someone who you can let your guard down and articulate your dreams to. Then they can mirror reality for you so they can say what may work and what may not work.”
Building A Relationship
Once you find someone who you want to enter into a mentorship relationship with, be clear and direct with them.
“Let them know you want to enter into a mentorship relationship with them,” McDonald-Barnes said. “You need to be direct and just ask them. Some may not have time to sit and be a mentor — it can take up a lot of time. But that person will let you know if they’re available or not.”
Now that you’ve defined the relationship, set ground rules. Decide how often you’ll meet, what the goal of your conversations will be and the modes of communication that you both find comfortable. As a remote worker, you may want more in-person meetings. However, since you work remotely, it may be easier to do video calls instead.
“Mutually decide if texting is okay, if email is okay… It doesn’t have to be a face-to-face relationship,” McDonald-Barnes said. “It depends on the relationship and your needs from that mentor. If you’re looking to make a career change, you may need to meet more often. As your relationship matures, you may meet less often.”
Growing In Your Career
As you move up in your career, whether becoming a manager, changing companies or going from remote worker to in-office worker, your needs may shift. However, that doesn’t mean you need to dump your mentor for a new one. You can easily have multiple mentors who you meet with for different reasons and at different times.
“I once had three different mentors for three different areas in my life,” McDonald-Barnes said. “You might need someone to help you with basic social skills, someone from a technical standpoint, or you totally want to change your career —you can find someone for all of that.”
As you grow out of a mentorship relationship, you can, of course, let the relationship fade away or let that person know you no longer need them. However, that might not feel like the most professional behavior after this person helped you in your career.
Instead, transform the relationship so that it’s more of a professional friendship. You may not see or talk to this mentor as much as you used to, but that doesn’t mean you can’t pick up the phone or shoot them an email and pick up right where you left off. Even better, McDonald-Barnes told us that mentors can become references for jobs.
“You might need a reference for a new job,” she said. “They’ve seen you grow and mature over the years and they’re perfect for being references. They know what kind of work product you can produce. “It’s always good to have mentors in your pocket.”
Mentors can be great assets to remote workers, as well as those who work in offices. From career advice to networking opportunities, a mentor can lead you to a less lonely work life. Start making moves to find one that’s right for you, or consider mentoring someone else. Either way, mentorship is key for getting ahead in your industry.