Article | Evolving Workforces

Employee Mentorship Is as Important as Ever

An honest conversation about virtual mentorship in the hybrid age

29 Jul 2021 7 Minute Read

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As companies increasingly embrace flexibility and accelerate the shift to hybrid working, employees are experiencing the workplace across a variety of media, blending the physical and virtual worlds. The pros and cons of the hybrid approach are hotly debated, but employee feelings of social isolation consistently rank in the top three challenges of remote work.1 Corporate real estate executives agree: People-centric goals of better supporting team collaboration, corporate culture, and employee engagement have risen in prominence among their priorities.2 Addressing the social experience of working virtually will be critical for organizations seeking sustainable success in hybrid working.

1 What are the biggest challenges of remote work?

Source: CBRE Workforce Sentiment Survey, August 2020, n=10,000.


2 What are the top three areas that workplace solutions need to support moving forward?

Source: CBRE Global Occupier Sentiment Survey, May 2020, n=180.

Mentorship is an integral part of the employee social experience and is traditionally modeled through a senior employee advising a junior employee via formal one-on-one meetings or ad hoc, in-office job shadowing. Some have worried that an attitude of “out of sight, out of mind” will prevail in virtual or hybrid work models, leading to concerns about the future of professional development, knowledge transfer and employee engagement. However, virtual mentorship can occur as meaningfully as it does in person, as the essence of building and maintaining a relationship—even through a screen—remains. Additionally, building skills in virtual mentorship can benefit the creation of an equitable employee development experience across cultures, geographies and functional expertise.

As leaders in advising clients on the implementation of Future of Work strategies, the CBRE Workplace team exemplifies best practices in their virtual mentorship program across the Americas. Below is a conversation between mentor Marina van Overbeek and mentee Mackenzie Lukas sharing their perspectives on the components of a successful mentorship.

marina van overbeekMarina van Overbeek is a Director of Change Management and a mentor for the Workplace team and CBRE’s EMPOWER 2021 program. With over 25 years of experience, she is a trusted advisor to many and a friend to all. She’s a lover of life, people, adventures and challenges.

mackenzie-lukasMackenzie Lukas is a Senior Strategist and mentee, eagerly learning the ins and outs of workplace strategy and change management. She’s a gatherer of people and collector of experiences—and a dedicated foodie.

Virtual Mentorship Tips

  • Mentorship is a two-way, mutually beneficial relationship: Mentees can support mentors, too.
  • Be empathetic, authentic and open to others.
  • Aim to provide guidance to the “whole” person if asked, including non-professional aspects of life.
  • Assume positive intent for those reaching out for a potential mentor or mentee.
  • Conversation starters can be helpful during your first few sessions with a potential mentor.

Mackenzie: Hi Marina! Our chats are the highlight of my week. I want to get a bit meta today and talk about mentorship. Mentorship is such a personal topic, and there seems to be a variety of definitions. What does mentorship mean to you, and what differentiates a good mentor-mentee relationship?

Marina: Hi Mackenzie! I love our talks, too. And you’re right. I view mentorship as a two-way relationship between two people that is rooted in helping each other solve problems and overcome barriers. I say that it goes two ways because the hierarchy surrounding the concept of mentorship needs to be broken down. It’s not just one more senior person who is seen as an oracle telling the junior person how to make advances in a career. But rather, the relationship often spans beyond work and navigating careers and instead is a much more thoughtful, personal experience.

Mackenzie: And we have seen this in the evolution of our own relationship. Through this process, we have established a comfort level with each other where we can ask questions about overcoming barriers in all aspects of life. It’s a personal connection that’s grown between us.

Marina: This connection represents what mentorship can provide: You get to know who your mentor or mentee truly is, where they’ve come from and where they want to go. You are helping them stay true to themselves while providing guidance to their “whole” person and ultimately guiding them in creating richer personal and professional relationships.

Mackenzie: And by that definition, mentor-mentee relationships don't have to strictly be between colleagues, right? They can exist in a wide variety of contexts, including between peers, friends, an advisor and consultant or family members.

Marina: Exactly.

Mackenzie: I’ve found that prioritizing mentorship while working in a hybrid environment can be difficult. Sensing a personal connection or “feeling” a stranger’s warmth or openness to mentorship is challenging. We rely on subtle, in-person behaviors and communication to get a sense of how well we may get along with someone. How can I approach virtual mentorship and development in smarter ways?

Marina: First, mentorship is important because your career and self are important. Your development and relationships to others should not be compromised despite working virtually or in a mix of physical and digital environments. Second, companies cannot afford to take a “break” from developing their team. And, as hybrid workplace strategies are implemented more widely, it's so important for companies to embrace virtual mentorship for employee growth, employee engagement and happiness, and overall business outcomes.

In my experience, mentorship can still start and flourish through virtual media such as videoconferencing, instant messaging, talking or texting via phone or attending virtual networking events. Physical presence is not a prerequisite for mentoring—but this requires a paradigm shift in understanding.

Mackenzie: Even though we’ve only met in person once and live on opposite sides of the country, we’ve been able to develop such a strong and special connection. Reflecting on my experience working virtually, it feels like sometimes conversations default to a transactional approach. Genuine authenticity and compassion can be hard to convey through cameras and microphones.

Marina: I think that’s simply because prior to the pandemic, people were not accustomed to relying on virtual communications for most conversations. When the “Hi! How are you? I have a request...” messages dominated our inbox, expressing interest in others’ feelings and sharing your own felt a bit unnatural. But that can be combatted with empathy. Always assume good intent from those reaching out wanting a mentor or to be a mentor via email, phone call or instant messenger. Connecting virtually can remove the sense of formality of the process, too. You hear my dogs barking in the background of our calls all the time! These are small reminders of who we are as humans.

Mackenzie: I love when Indie and Velvet make a guest appearance during our Zoom calls! We’ve shared so many life stories with each other, and I remember during our first few calls, I had some conversation starters prepped. I learned about your interests and experiences so I could easily let the conversation flow as we learned more about one another until we developed the trust to solve problems in our personal and professional lives. Do you have any other virtual mentorship tips I should keep in mind?

Marina: Virtual mentorship is just mentorship. Remain authentically you and open to others—which is as possible without sitting in the same room as it is when you are.

Mackenzie: Marina, you’re the best. Thank you for your wisdom and time, as always.

Marina: Thank you, Mackenzie. It’s a pleasure. Same time and place next week!

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