At Ladies that UX Amsterdam we started organising the Mentorship Program in 2018 and it’s been growing ever since. It’s a 4 months program once a year and our goal is to help UXers who want to grow in their skillset. We match mentors and mentees based on their skills and goals and we organise some events throughout the program.
This was the third year and we wanted to take it to the next level. So a couple of months before the program we gathered together and we planned a lot of cool workshops and events throughout the whole program. But then, out of the blue, we found ourselves in the middle of a global pandemic. We decided to continue with the program anyway and we told ourselves that we would organise some of the events remotely. But time passed and we were not organising those events. It was very hard to keep up with the pace that we had before because none of us had the energy to do so. So in the end, we organised 2 events during the 4 months program.
Apart from being the organiser of the program and having all these struggles, I also participated as a mentor and mentee.
As a mentor, my goal was to improve my coaching skills and listening, and I wanted to make it more challenging for me. So I chose mentees who were already working and whose goal was to become medior UX Designer.
As a mentee, my goal was to improve at my qualitative research skills by getting some feedback on my current work, and get some knowledge about quantitative research.
And of course, as a participant, I had my fears and challenges due to this new strange situation.
In this article, I want to share some of those challenges and how I solve them.
Challenges of a Mentorship Program during a global pandemic
1st challenge: How to build trust and a good relationship remotely?
My first challenge was how to establish a good relationship with a person that I will only meet remotely every 2 weeks. In general, I prefer to meet in person because it’s easier to have a nice conversation with good food or a couple of drinks. For me, establishing a good personal relationship with my mentor and mentee is very important. I believe that if there is no trust and good feeling, the relationship becomes very complicated and it’s not possible to help the person or receive help.
What did I do?
From my side, I tried to get to know them personally. For me this time this was even more important because I wanted to have these calls with a friend. I didn’t want to have a “compulsory” chat only about work and very formal because it would have been very difficult to keep up since I had calls at work all day. A friendly chat in the evening would help me a lot.
I also tried to not cancel any of the calls that we had. Even though I didn’t have too much to discuss that day, I found it important to keep the consistency. We could chat about any other topic and this would help to create consistency and build that relationship.
In the end, I was surprised by the strong relationships I was able to build with my mentor and mentee. I’m very happy that even though the program is over we continue with the calls and even though we keep talking about work and helping each other, we also talk about what’s going on in our lives, personal struggles, etc. I’m very happy to consider them my friends now. Even though for example, I didn’t get the chance to meet my mentee in person yet, since she lives in another city.
2nd challenge: How to keep our calls productive?
Before this global pandemic, I worked in an office. So I was not used to having online calls. Without that prior knowledge, it might be challenging to know how to structure the calls to keep them productive. If you ever worked in an office and also remote before, you know that it’s not the same having a meeting in person rather than remote. The dynamics are very different, so you need to change how you organise them and their structure.
What did I do?
To be honest, I didn’t investigate too much on “how to have productive remote calls”. I did what it felt logical for me at that moment and similar to what I do for in-person meetings.
I always prepared the calls in advance. As a mentee, I always listed the topics that I wanted to discuss a couple of days in advance and the questions. Sometimes I even shared with her documents that I wanted feedback on so, she could check it beforehand and during the call, we could discuss the feedback directly.
We had a shared document. So usually, I would write there my questions/topics and of course, I will also write her recommendations as well afterwards. So I could have everything in one place.
As a mentor, I also prepared the call in advance. If I wanted to share some of my experience with them, I prepared a presentation or a couple of slides with it. I also prepared the topics or questions that I wanted to follow up from the previous call.
This worked out very well because every call was very productive. We always had a lot to talk about and clear action points for the next call. Having clear action points for the next call helps to show up at every call, instead of skipping them.
3rd challenge: How to keep the motivation throughout a 4 months program?
It’s not the same to keep motivation when you meet in person, go to events, rather than when you are participating in a remote Mentorship Program. But not only that, you are stuck at home because everything is closed and cancel. In addition to this, we were in the middle of a global pandemic so I was worried about my job, my family, the economy…
And lastly, I had very low energy because of all the worries that I had and the number of online calls that I had at work. Switching suddenly to remote work without prior notice was very hard for me . It took a lot of my energy to find a routine that was suitable for me and to learn how to disconnect from work.
So, sometimes keep up the motivation was hard.
What did I do?
During these moments, it helped me to remind myself why I was participating in the Mentorship Program. Which were my goals. And also, push me a little as well, since being on the sofa every day doing nothing is not the best thing to do to cheer myself up. Regarding pushing myself a little, it also helped me to work out regularly as well, even though it was at home and I didn’t feel motivated to do so. I was very surprised by how working out was helping me to stay happy and motivated. Trying to keep a normal life helped me to continue with side-projects as the Mentorship Program. However, I also allowed myself to ‘do nothing’ some days, or take it easy.
In addition to this, the personal connection that I developed with my mentor and mentee also helped me a lot to keep the motivation. I was looking forward to these calls, not only to learn and discuss things about work but to have a chat with them, know how they were doing, etc. During this pandemic, social contact is very limited, so at least this was a moment to talk to somebody else who wasn’t my boyfriend or a colleague from work.
I’m also very self-driven, which also helped me a lot during this pandemic.
4th challenge: Will I be able to give good feedback and collaborate with them in a remote environment?
Giving feedback and revising projects it’s more comfortable in person. You can check the project together, write stickies, collaborate, etc. Besides, since you are in person, you are more aware of the body language and how the person is giving or receiving your feedback. So it’s more difficult to have misunderstandings.
In a remote collaboration, all of this is lost. Or at least, you need to do it differently.
What did I do?
I prefer to give feedback always during a conversation, instead of sending a document. Because for me giving feedback is more a conversation, and I’m interested to know if the other person understand where I’m coming from, if she/he has a different point of view, etc.
However, not everyone prefers to receive feedback this way, some people prefer to receive it in writing so they have time to read it themselves and then ask questions about it. So it’s very important to check with the person first. I was very lucky because my mentee also prefers to receive feedback during a conversation, so we always did it on the spot. And we always had very good conversations about it.
And for receiving feedback, depending on the type of feedback and the time we got we changed the approach a little. Sometimes we discussed the feedback during the calls on the spot. And other times I shared the document beforehand with her, so she could post comments on it, and then ask we discuss specific questions or doubts during the call. This was very helpful when we had several topics to discuss during the call, because we didn’t spend so much time on the feedback and we could have time for everything. I had a very good mentor so I never felt like she was judging me or giving me non-constructive/hard feedback. She made this very easy for me.
All in all, it was a very good Mentorship Program. I’m glad that I decided to participate despite the situation. I learnt a lot about remote collaboration which I’m sure it will be very useful in the future, even when the coronavirus is over and we all go back to an office.
In addition to this, I improved on the goals that I had like coaching and research skills. Which leaves me with a very positive feeling about 2020 because I feel like I did something productive.
Last but not least, I built very good friendships that I will continue during 2021. For me this is one of the big benefits of the Mentorship Program, the possibility to build meaningful relationships with the other person and continue that even after the program.
What about you? Did you participate in a remote program? What challenges did you have during this pandemic?