In the world of remote and hybrid work, mentorship matters

With our new ways of working, this type of pairing is a critical tool for employers to keep employees engaged — especially women and young people — helping them build connections, confidence, and the clarity they need to advance in their careers.

By Pamela DeLoatch — July 6, 2022

After 16 years of working at HP in Canada, Carina Pereira thought about reevaluating her future. She was enjoying her role as a sales compensation business consultant, but felt it was time for a change.

Pereira was one of millions of employees who, spurred by the upheaval of the pandemic, found themselves questioning everything from where their career was going to whether they wanted a career at all. More than 47 million Americans voluntarily left their jobs in 2021, and over 60% said the top reasons for leaving were low pay and lack of advancement opportunities.

“I was struggling,” Pereira recalled. “Should I go back to school? Take on a new role?”

Pereira signed up for HP’s Sales Operations Mentoring program, which connects mentors and mentees for a year to expand their networks and share skills and best practices. She was matched with Melanie Heron, from HP’s Industrial Print Organization, who was based in Maryland.


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Pereira and Heron, both of whom worked remotely even before the pandemic, met virtually several times a month, discussing potential career opportunities and exploring Pereira’s options. By early 2022, Pereira had applied for and landed a new position as regional plan design and engagement lead with HP.

“Melanie really helped me by asking me questions that made me think,” Pereira says. “One of the key takeaways was to get out of my comfort zone and not be afraid to challenge myself. She helped me get to the answer quicker than if I were doing it alone.”

As businesses struggle to recruit and retain employees — one recent study found that nearly half of employees are actively looking for new jobs —  mentorship is emerging as a critical tool for employers. It can help employees build the confidence and skills they need to advance, whether they’re just starting out, taking on a new role, returning to the workplace after a hiatus, or are at another point in their career. And, these relationships can help both mentees and mentors build personal connections to their work in a remote and hybrid world.

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in demand for these programs during the pandemic,” says Chantal Pierrat, CEO of platforms Emerging Women and Emerging Human, and partner in HP’s Catalyst initiative, designed to help guide women and employees from underrepresented communities into leadership roles. “With people working at home and being isolated from their coworkers, they’ve been a lifeline.” 

Creating connections for women and younger employees

For Gen Z employees — and especially those who began their careers remotely — mentoring programs can help provide an understanding of the company culture and exposure to others in the organization they may not meet in their day-to-day work. In one study, 41% of Gen Z respondents expressed concern that they were losing the opportunity to be mentored because they were not working in the office.

Mojo Wang

“They missed the times when you walk into a conference room and talk with the person beside you who’s been here for 30 years,” says Laurie Stack, chief of staff for Print Cloud Platform & Services at HP, and a sponsor participating in HP’s Catalyst program. “They’re missing that richness that gives you color and [makes you think], Oh, that person is in that role, and how do I get there?” 

Benét Wilson agrees. The senior editor at the travel website The Points Guy has formally and informally mentored more than 300 journalists and journalism students in the last 25 years. Her Gen Z mentees especially benefit from guidance when they’re working in a hybrid or remote environment, she says.

“When Gen Zers are just graduating and in their first job, but not in an office, they’re not interacting with people except through Zoom or Slack. There’s no way for them to learn or get guidance because they’re sitting at home and reluctant to say anything.” Wilson advises her Gen Z mentees to schedule virtual coffees with coworkers and have regular informal online chats with their managers to make sure they’re not missing any nuances of the job or work environment.

For Ezra Chavez, a billing specialist at SurveyMonkey who works remotely from Portland, Oregon, a virtual mentorship program gave her access to a mentor in a different role (he works in learning and development) and a different country — someone she says she never would have met working in-person at an office. Chavez, who is in her 20s, had been in her role for about a month when she signed up for the company’s mentorship program and began meeting weekly with a mentor based in Amsterdam. She says the experience helped her build presentation and public speaking skills while also giving her a window into another part of the company.

“When I first started, I was nervous and didn’t really know what was okay or who I could reach out to,” she says. “Talking with someone in another part of the company helped me feel included and come out of my shell.”

Young people who haven’t yet entered the workforce or who don’t have access to company-sponsored mentoring programs can find mentors through a number of online platforms, including Muse Mentorship, Mentor Collective, and Mentor Spaces, which are designed for students and people underrepresented in technology and business.

Mentorship relationships can also be particularly beneficial for women who work remotely or in a hybrid environment. In a FlexJobs survey, 68% of women said they preferred to work remotely, compared to 57% of men. But working remotely can make career growth difficult, says Dee Poku Spalding, founder and CEO of The WIE Suite, a private membership community for women leaders and creators.

“One of the ways you get ahead is by being noticed, being seen, and building relationships,” she says. “If you’re sitting at home on the computer, you don’t get the chance to shine.”

Dee Poku Spalding, founder and CEO of The WIE Suite, a private membership community for women leaders and creators.

Courtesy of Dee Poku Spalding

Dee Poku Spalding, founder and CEO of The WIE Suite, a private membership community for women leaders and creators.

By mid-2021, nearly two million women had left the US workforce during the pandemic, and those who now want to return are finding a different world than the one they left, with teams that have adapted to new processes and ways of working. The WIE Suite launched the 2 Million Mentor Minutes campaign in 2021 to address this crisis, inviting men and women to donate at least 60 minutes to mentor women who recently lost their jobs or were trying to return to work.

Remote work opens new possibilities for mentorship

In the past, mentoring relationships would often spring from casual conversations or from experienced colleagues modeling behavior in meetings or on projects. But in the current reality, when about 40% of private-sector companies offer employees remote or hybrid options, organic opportunities for on-the-job mentoring can be fewer and farther between.

That makes formal mentorship and sponsorship programs more important than ever. In sponsorship programs like HP’s Catalyst initiative, a sponsor not only guides and advises as a mentor does, but also actively advocates and helps open up new opportunities for the sponsee. A survey from the virtual mentorship platform MentorcliQ found that 84% of Fortune 500 companies have formal mentoring programs, and employees involved in mentoring programs have a 50% higher retention rate than those who aren’t.

Virtual mentoring relationships make these important connections possible from a distance and open up new opportunities for mentorship matches based on qualities that go well beyond geography, specific roles, or areas of expertise.

“Our work ethic is similar and we’re both working mothers, constantly balancing,” Heron says, describing her connection to Pereira. “We were able to support, reassure, and share with each other.”

For SurveyMonkey’s Chavez, virtual mentorship meant being matched with someone she had something in common with beyond the responsibilities of her role.

“I’m a very introverted person, and he told me about his own experiences struggling with public speaking,” she says. “He also connected me to resources and other people I could talk to. It helped to learn what helped him.”

Keys to successful remote mentorship

Establishing a successful mentoring relationship begins with finding mentors with the right mindset — people who are not only willing to devote the time to mentoring, but who can navigate the challenge of building trust in either an in-person or a virtual environment.

“They need to be open, thoughtful, insightful, and able to give very strategic advice,” says Spalding. “They also need to be reliable — nothing is worse than disappointing a mentee because you can’t commit.”

Stack notes that mentors also must be ready to build a relationship with their mentees before they offer advice. “You need to establish trust so you, as a mentor, can push the person for blind spots that can be holding them back,” she says.

At the beginning of the relationship, mentors and mentees should establish their rules of engagement, such as how frequently to meet and how structured the conversations should be.

Mentoring relationships also should be based on a goal that comes from the mentee, Spalding says. “The mentorship should have a clear focus — something the mentee is striving toward, so there is some structure to have the relationship progress.” The focus doesn’t have to be determining a career direction, but it should be specific. For example, Spalding says she sought a mentor who could help her navigate fundraising strategies.

With Heron’s support, Pereira accomplished her goal of moving into a new position. Now, even though their formal one-year mentoring program is officially over, Pereira and Heron are continuing the relationship and determining what this next iteration will look like.

“Mentorship is an opportunity to address whatever you’re struggling with,” Pereira says. “When you have someone who can bring their experiences and share, lots of great conversations happen.”