Remote Mentoring

How does remote mentoring work? One of the most frequent questions I get is how to make mentoring work at a distance. If a Mentor and Mentee are not in the same geographic location, they share special challenges not faced by those who can simply walk down the hall for a meeting.

The picture above shows my 2012 TechWomen Mentee and two of her co-workers in Beirut, Lebanon, with whom I met this morning by using Skype from my office here in the Silicon Valley. She and I are also using MentorCloud to communicate.

Mentoring at a distance is a topic much discussed in my publication Sun Mentoring: 1996-2009. For example, location is one of the considerations in answering the question: “What do mentors look for in mentees?”  The answer for Sun Microsystems’ SEED global Engineering mentoring program was:

Physical proximity or time zone proximity may or may not be important. Proximity may mean that the Mentor and Mentee have offices near each other or that one of them can travel for an in- person visit from time to time. However, while face-to-face meetings are valuable, they are not always possible. A great deal can be accomplished over the phone and by email (the major communication methods reported). 88% of SEED Mentor-Mentee pairs work at a distance (in difference cities, states, or countries). In a global workforce, potential mentees may work in an area where there are few or no senior engineering staff available to mentor them. In their case, being mentored “at a distance” is their only choice.

In programs at Sun, mentoring pairs who worked at a distance for many years reported the same satisfaction level as those working locally; however, Mentors and Mentees both reported that working at a distance is more time consuming.

Mentoring across distance and time zones must be considered by both the Mentor and the Mentee in making a match.  Distance mentoring may be a skill that the potential Mentor seeks to develop but it requires time and planning.  If a Mentee seeks a Mentor who is many time zones apart, the Mentee must commit to doing everything possible to make the relationship and communications work.  The Mentee always drives the mentoring partnership.

Image Copyright 2012 by Katy Dickinson


  1. Excellent points, Katy. My best mentoring experiences are with mentees who I am in touch with remotely. What made the interactions difficult were the number of tools we had to use to stay connected (email, skype, phone calls, dropbox), but that did not come in the way of building rich relationships with my mentees. One of my mentees is visually challenged and yet we have fantastic conversations and continue to build a mutually rewarding relationship.
    This latest article you shared today highlights the top 5 characteristics of a mentor and mentee, and none of them allude to mentor and mentee having to be in the same location.

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