What holds true for traditional one-on-one mentoring remains true for emerging models conducted from a distance: Virtual relationships require tangible trust.
Trust is a vital piece of today’s networked mentoring landscape. In this environment, learning centers around sharing personal, tacit knowledge that is unique to individuals and their experiences.
This type of learning can create a highly contextualized interaction between people, where knowledge seekers discover how people accomplished their work, what they learned and how they overcame challenges. It also allows people to ask real-time questions as issues emerge so they are learning in the moment and seeing results immediately. That is in contrast with older mentoring models where people tend to meet once a month and have philosophical discussions about development.
This dynamic approach to mentored learning takes on a new layer of complexity when it occurs virtually and asynchronously. People need to close gaps in relational distance and form a trust bond with colleagues they may never meet in person. Challenging questions about how to build trust in these virtual relationships arise, such as: How do I learn to trust my colleagues in a short-lived situational mentoring relationship where we may only work together for a week or two? What about in a multi-person engagement where there are many different personalities and work styles at play? Can I really trust these people whom I’ve never met but who are now giving me advice or asking for my help through a Web-based mentoring program?
With more and more colleagues dispersed and working remotely, talent managers must help workers discover how they can engage in personal development and mentoring relationships with people they have never met. To do this they have to help them figure out how to build trust in virtual mentoring networks.Trust in the Time of Remoteness
Trust is built when people exhibit competence in their areas of expertise and show integrity through their personal interactions with others. They willingly share their knowledge and insights, courageously explore areas for improvement and openly show respect for their mentoring cohorts.
In a virtual setting, people’s personal reputation and character will be unlikely to deviate from how they are perceived in a face-to-face setting. They will simply use technology to help project the way they typically interact with others. If they are responsive, collaborative and supportive in their physical work world, this will come through in their virtual reputation as they engage their mentoring network. This lends itself to building trust and boosting engagement in mentoring among colleagues (Figure 1).