Mentoring in a virtual environment 

Compliance Effectiveness

Sharon Parsley, JD, MBA, CHC, CHRC, is a health law attorney, compliance officer, author, speaker, investigator, and problem solver. She currently serves as the president and managing director of Quest Advisory Group, LLC. She has nearly 20 years of healthcare compliance and legal leadership experience, and she believes that mentorship and on-the-job training are critical to compliance professional success. This is the third article in her monthly series on compliance officer effectiveness for the YouCompli blog. 

A December 2021 Gallup survey revealed some interesting statistics about virtual work. Of the approximately 125 million full-time jobs in the U.S., 50% of them can be performed remotely. Out of that roughly sixty million cohort of workers, 30% of them would prefer to NEVER return to an office. Post-pandemic, only one of 10 people prefer to return to the “business as usual” model of in-office work every business day. A 2021 study showed that 58% of workers would “absolutely” look for a new job if a remote work arrangement was not unavailable to them. Similarly, a glance at the HCCA or SCCE job boards, LinkedIn, or other healthcare compliance job listings shows a significant change. The positions now listed as remote, or hybrid are considerably more plentiful now than pre-COVID.  

Like any seismic shift in the workplace, remote work also brings with it numerous opportunities and issues. Chief among the issues to consider is mentoring and team member development. Mentoring in a virtual world may offer some advantages. First, colleagues have the tools to collaborate regardless of location. Mentoring sessions can easily be recorded or transcribed. Some people have found a sense of psychological safety and comfort that makes them prefer working from home at least some of the time. These people may be more open and comfortable receiving feedback via telephone or video call. Lastly, you can use closed captioning and various translation applications to be more inclusive of people with disabilities or language barriers.  

On the flip side though, mentoring a remote or hybrid work team presents challenges that must be considered. Opportunities for casual and informal water cooler chats are fewer or non-existent. Opportunities to misinterpret a quick email, text, or instant message are plentiful. Even on-camera interactions do not afford us the same opportunity to evaluate important non-verbal communication cues available during an in-person interaction.  

So how can you make virtual mentoring more meaningful? Here are some suggestions:  

1. Establish clear rules of engagement for mentoring relationships.   

This includes frequency, timing, duration, and even discussion format. Mentorship in a virtual or hybrid environment requires considerable intentionality and commitment. If all parties have clear expectations, the time allocated to discussions will be used more effectively. Once the frequency and timing are set, respect them! Repeated cancellations, showing up late, or being distracted by calls or emails does not demonstrate that you prioritize mentorship. Folks who are new to your team or new to the profession are going to need more of an investment while they are getting acclimated.

2. Schedule periodic 1:1 meetings with every team member in your downline.

Even your more experienced team members will appreciate you taking the time to focus on them periodically. You can offer constructive and honest feedback, provide direction and input about expectations, and share your vision and project status. You can also ask for feedback on what is and is not working on the team and for each colleague. You may have done some of this in the past, but you really must make space for it now. Ask each person about their short and long-term professional and personal goals. Use that information to establish a deeper and more meaningful connection and to build trust.  

3. Be curious about your team’s career goals.

Even if a team member has a professional goal that may not align with departmental or enterprise-wide objectives, respect it for what it is. If it is important to that individual and you do not appreciate and support their goal, it will create a sense of animosity. Potentially you could increase the chances of that person looking outwardly for other opportunities. To the extent that a professional goal may benefit the team, support it. If it is appropriate to do so, publicly celebrate when team members achieve their goals.  

4. Thoughtfully assign diverse groups to projects.

Lots of folks are looking for opportunities to demonstrate individual value and to prove that they are making meaningful contributions. When a new project comes up, take a fresh look at how you staff it. Consider the size of your team, where people are physically situated, and which members interact regularly within the normal course of work. Think about whether it is possible to pair more experienced team members with less experienced team members on a project team. For larger projects, assign a team leader who has demonstrated project management skills. Team leaders should create a plan for deliverables and timing, and then you can trust that team to shine. For mission critical projects, you may choose to stay more closely apprised of whether the project is on track. That way you can help remove obstacles as needed. When the project is successfully completed, make sure to recognize every team member who contributed.  

5. Plan some face-to-face time; preferably to bring the entire team together.

Particularly if your enterprise has a widespread domestic or international reach, arrange to get the whole team together as regularly as possible. In some ways, video conferencing has had a humanizing effect with peeks into our team members’ living rooms, dining rooms and bedroom home offices. It is not, however, a substitute for the natural synergies that exist within high-functioning teams. This is especially when compared to teams in closer contact or physical proximity to one another.  

6. Consider work buddy arrangements.

If your team is large enough, try to pair a more senior team member with a junior member. Encourage them to connect regularly to share ideas and information. While leadership mentoring is imperative for success of new team members, those newer team members may be reluctant to ask you “dumb” questions. One tremendous benefit of less formalized work buddy partnerships is that they can offer a “safe” outlet. Your less junior team members can raise questions that those folks may feel uncomfortable asking their upline leaders.  

Are you worried about investing time in people who might leave your organization anyway?

Remember that people leave for a variety of reasons, some of which will be completely outside your control. Sometimes an A-level team member may be ready for a promotion that you simply cannot structurally provide to him or her. Or a competitor can offer a substantial salary increase that you are unable to match due to intra-department parity concerns or other budgetary constraints. Developing your talent and building a healthy team dynamic is one thing you can control.  

Healthy team dynamics determine how effective the team is and can help you retain and attract people for open roles. If someone leaves, take pride in having helped them be ready to take that next big career leap. Their feedback can help you lead even more effectively. Former employees could likely be an advocate for you when others are considering applying for your open roles. And who knows, that rising star that you thought you could not afford to be without today may be your manager in the future.  

Sharon Parsley and the team at YouCompli believe that effective regulatory change management – like effective team leadership – takes time, process, and intention. YouCompli can help with your regulatory change management process – freeing up time for you to focus on relationships, influence, and impact. Learn more. 

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