What is distance mentoring?
Distance mentoring is just as it sounds, mentoring across a distance. Some of the reasons this type of mentoring occurs are: a) one or both mentoring participants travel frequently; b) the mentoring partners live/work in different areas of the city, state, country, or world, or; 3) the person with the desired expertise/learning does not reside in close proximity.
Is it really mentoring?
Yes, the true power and effectiveness of mentoring comes from consistent accountability and encouragement given to mentees as they work on personal and professional goals. Mentors can hold mentees accountable and encourage them over a distance. If the mentoring pair has a clear commitment to the expectations and goals of the arrangement and is dedicated to promoting a progressive relationship, distance mentoring can be a powerful learning tool.
Is it a last option or a valid strategy?
In the past, many mentoring pairs saw this as a last option—it was the only way to create the learning situation they desired if they did not reside near their mentoring partner. Now, many see that distance mentoring offers a host of new learning opportunities and helpful/strategic relationships to explore. Since the number and type of mentors and mentees we can have is limited only by our time constraints and ability to commit to the relationship, distance mentoring is being recognized as an opportunity for more than one learning experience.
How time consuming is it?
This depends on what you are trying to accomplish. If you want to learn one skill – that is relatively simple. An informal mentoring relationship lasting only a few meetings is appropriate. If you are seeking mentoring for a more complicated skill set, character development, or work/life integration support then a longer and more regularly scheduled situation is more fitting. The most important aspect to mapping out the time commitment is to discuss the goals thoroughly and set clear expectations regarding length, time span, frequency and intensity of distance meetings.
Can I really build a relationship with my mentoring partner over a distance?
Because communication is the strongest face to face, it is helpful to meet in person with your mentoring partner at least once during your relationship. But if this is not possible, follow best practices for building relationship and communicating across distance. (See the article 6 Best Practices for Mentoring Across Distance for additional insight). Practices like using video conferencing options whenever possible, being prepared for your interactions, engaging regularly, etc. will support a strong distance mentoring relationship.