Can mentoring and development survive the hybrid shift?

Online mentoring

By Nathan Peart

With the hybrid model set to stay for the long run, Nathan Peart explores how companies and leaders must ensure that they properly adapt their training and development programs to the hybrid working model, or risk losing young talent.

The hybrid return to work is generally seen as a positive step towards flexibility for employees – industries stuck in facetime-centric cultures were suddenly thrust into a new way of virtual working and at present, it doesn’t seem like there is any going back to a full-time model.

With the new normal looking at balancing a one or two days a week in the office, time in the office is no longer going to be the beacon of productivity it once was. In fact, organisational leadership now has to prioritise delivering in-person meetings and training sessions into a few weekdays, while also coordinating teams to ensure optimal interaction and cross-group connectivity. They will also need to encourage face-to-face client meets to facilitate new business in the ever-competitive post-pandemic world. 

Training is a major gripe of the hybrid working model. While newer employees celebrate newfound flexibility when starting a new job, delivering any kind of training to sharpen their skills and successfully onboard them is a difficult hurdle to overcome, especially in the virtual world. Millennial and Gen-Z employees prioritise personal development, as seen in recent surveys by Deloitte and Major, Lindsey & Africa, and hybrid working does not easily facilitate solving this problem – in the short-term, employees will prioritise their own flexibility, and longer-term development will initially be back of mind until it’s too late. The responsibility lies with the employer to ensure development is well managed right from the start. 

The delivery format of formal training is also important here – there has been a skills gap created by the pandemic that needs to be shortened while also addressing the new working world we are living in. However, how should organisations prioritise training over revenue generating activities? The long-term view is more important here than attempting to quickly realise short-term gains. Leadership needs to focus on development that is engaging, and which encapsulates a company culture. Investing in your employees now will help increase retention and, amidst the current talent war, the stakes are high to prevent attrition. 

Traditional forms of mentorship will also change and there is likely to be an increase in mentoring-up, whereby more junior members of a team mentor seniors, especially as the technological landscape of work changes and new ways of working and thinking become mainstream. This will critically rely on time syncing and being strategic with when people can come into the office and use their time effectively. It is a fine balance between offering the flexibility employees crave and delivering organisational goals. While the aggressive return to full-time facetime from the big investment banks takes a hard stance, there will be employees eyeing up other employers who offer more flexibility. Employees have become more savvy during the pandemic, and their loyalty is dwindling. Over time, this trend will reflect in all other industries. Compensation will still have a grip on talent attraction, but as the lines blur between home and life, the costs of getting into the office will weigh up with earning less and staying at home. 

As some people have been going back into the office, the benefit of in-person interaction for teams has already demonstrated the ease of asking questions and moving projects forward more efficiently when compared to the virtual working environment. More instantaneous messaging apps can help bridge this to some extent, but at the enterprise level, it is difficult to encourage a group-wide level of engagement and adoption. While Gen-Z and Millennials prefer more instantaneous methods of communication overall and find email management draining, boomers lean to email as the traditional form of communication. Email provides security and accountability, but there is a changing landscape in office and inter-generational engagement, so a balance will have to be struck.

Casual interactions are also hugely important in the development of work culture and their value is often overlooked. Leadership needs to focus on informal ways of connecting with their teams as they reintegrate into office life; coffees, walks, and lunches are great approaches to foster trust and build ideas to move forward with individuals in your team in the new working world. This is difficult in the time-poor setting that the hybrid working model has created; working from home radically changed the opportunities to connect with others, but also diminished some of the natural conversation over the course of the day that in itself builds culture, rapport and mentorship. In the office, time will be very much about minimal computer time, maximum in-person time and priority should be given, or at least equalised, with external meetings. 

On the client side, companies need to ensure their business development efforts are optimal and productive with such limited time to work with. Structure is important for work delegation and to capitalise efficiently on efforts, even in flat organisations. In the initial return, client meetings need to be a priority, but balanced with training and development opportunities for new and more junior employees, which are traditionally put on the back burner.

Companies should consider how this impacts building new relationships and ensuring your existing suppliers are meeting delivery standards and championing diversity. The remote working world has established somewhat of a status quo – lack of personal connection stifles creativity, and so in the big return to the office, employers should foster and encourage creative ideas and solutions where possible, which will reflect in external efforts to generate new business. 

With more change ahead, which will likely invite further challenges, balance needs to be found and a focus taken on internal, long-term investment in people. There will be difficulties to face, but promoting a culture of trust, creativity and relationship will ultimately lead to success.

About the Author

AuthorNathan Peart is a Managing Director on the Associate Practice Group at Major, Lindsey & Africa. Nathan works with associates to help them make lateral moves into law firms whether in London, internationally or between markets. An expert in cross-border relocation, Nathan has worked London, New York and Hong Kong.

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