By Peter Gbedemah, computer scientist and telecoms entrepreneur.

Mentorship is an age-old concept which originates in Homer’s Odyssey, where the tutor, Mentor, is referred to as a ‘wise and trusted advisor’. The insight into enlightened advice from this classic tale lays a great foundation to the understanding of personal and professional guidance in the modern day.

And what a time we’re living in. COVID-19 has turned the world on its head, spreading globally and throwing our day-to-day lives into dissaray. A force to be reckoned with, the virus has kept us indoors and well away from the workplace. This has left business leaders and mentors facing unprecedented challenges when it comes to managing staff and supporting trainees who would usually be sat only feet away from them in the office.

Mentors must not only continue supporting their juniors, but also lead them through a crisis. This adds an extra layer of responsibility.

A recent Gallup survey found that employees need their leaders to exhibit four main behaviours: trustworthiness, compassion, stablity and hopefulness. In a time where stress and uncertainty levels are much higher than normal, this is to be expected.

Before the outbreak, a number of workplaces had toyed with the idea of remote working policies, offering their staff more flexibility and free time. However, the vast majority of businesses had not implemented such procedures and employees will have likely been launched into a working environment that is vastly different to the norm. Not only away from the office, but likely in self-isolation, away from family and friends too. How can mentors ensure their trainees’ needs for autonomy and sense of belonging are adequately met when they’re not able to physically connect?

Practical implementation

As with any successful leadership, the key lies in clear communication. Now more than ever, mentors need to communicate as candidly and as clearly as they can. While there will still be a strong focus on professional development, support in a personal capacity is likely to become more prevalent – and mentors need to be prepared to adapt. Now is the time for really understanding individual needs, leading with trust and acting compassionately.

Concerns relating to a lack of focus or productivity are not uncommon and business leaders should encourage their teams to prioritise health – both physical and mental – especially in these testing and unprecedented times.

Remote catch-ups should be scheduled regularly and consistently, to ensure clear goals and expectations are set. However, mentors should be vigilant when walking the line between giving too much guidance and direction versus too much freedom. It’s a careful balancing act that will need to be navigated carefully throughout this new working reality.

Mentors should continue to encourage learning and the development of skills at this time and mentees should take advantage of the increase in the volume of webinars and digital training courses available since “lockdown” was imposed.

It’s also vital to emphasise the importance of respecting the working day, and maintaining the work/life balance employees may have had pre-outbreak. Encouraging exercise, wellness exercises and time away from laptops will result in happier, healthier and more productive employees.

Mentoring is a vital tool in an employer’s armoury, which can only serve to enrich the working lives of both mentors and mentees. The pandemic has presented challenges for both parties, stripping workers of face-to-face contact and visibility. However, this provides business and team leaders with a unique opportunity to sharpen their skills and really develop themselves as trusting and reliant mentors during this ongoing period of uncertainty, which will stand them in brilliant stead when (eventually) returning to the office.