Mentoring is not just a methodological process. It’s an emotional one. Our MAN Impact Accelerator team had to deal with a rapid turn of events during the first weeks of COVID, here they explain how they went virtual!
A few days before our program week kicked off in Lisbon, it became clear that the travel ban around COVID-19 outbreak would disrupt the week with our international cohort from Europe, Africa and Brazil. Together with our partners MAN Truck & Bus, we were obliged to adapt fast and shift our curriculum to fully digital set up (for the very first time)!
For a program that relies on face-to-face interaction, our main concern was how to coordinate the different locations and time zones. How were our topic mentors supposed to jump straight into a content call to impart their skills and knowledge without having met their mentees in person? We knew at least, with our cohort already a tight-knit community, that the energy and spirit of the group would not be a problem!
Although challenging, the impact of the week was not greatly affected by the reshaped structure of the virtual setup. Our mentors found it an inspiring opportunity to provide their perspective and advice, whilst mentees were relieved the week’s content was not entirely cancelled as they could soak up all their knowledge to progress with their companies.
The entire week happened in the virtual office space Sococo. This tool really brought a fun, spontaneous feeling of camaraderie to lift everyone’s spirits.
By opening the web browser and clicking on your location of choice, you automatically join with audio/video without having to dial in - saving significant time. You can meet in separate rooms, and if you need a bit of privacy, you can even ‘close the door’which requires others to knock (i.e., ask permission) before entering the room. To be extra polite, you can also knock on an open door before entering any room - even with the door open. We integrated Slack and collaborative tools such as ConceptBoard to take notes (add objects, sticky notes etc.,) imitating a whiteboard that we would normally have in our physical mentoring session.
““In every challenge we face, there is an opportunity to learn and grow. That’s exactly why we’ve soon started to embrace our decision to run our first ever remote program week – and we’ve succeeded to make a virtue of necessity. Being exposed to new collaboration tools like Sococo was an eye-opener for many of us.”
— Florian Stehbeck, MAN Truck & Bus SE
Our virtual office set up for the week divided into the following rooms - each startup team has their own room (e.g., Koiki) to meet their lead mentor and local topic mentor. The debrief rooms were used by the mentors to coordinate between the two mentoring sessions. The vue cafe and terrace garden was used a space for socialising and non-work related catch ups.
The program team met regularly to align and clarify the new roles and responsibilities for the remote set up. Living on Sococo, they were regularly checking and asking feedback, answering any questions and generally facilitating small talk to keep the fun energy, enthusiasm and momentum during the entire day. It is important to use the empty space to find time to connect and ask feedback to the mentors when you find them hanging out in the ‘terrace garden’.
Thanks to the birds eye view of Sococo, it is easy to make sure everyone is at the right place and at the right time for their session, and check-in on Slack or Whatsapp if otherwise. The program team also has power to move someone into a room if they are chilling in the ‘terrace bar’ by right clicking on the avatar and selecting ‘GET’. As you cannot judge mentoring sessions by the usual giveaways like body language, it was particularly important, with the help of the lead mentors, to guide and support the mentoring sessions.
The team or lead mentors would facilitate the start of the interaction to make sure the conversations began on the right track. If a conversation deviated, or did not bring value to the entrepreneur, the team or lead mentors intervened to re-focus conversations. A virtual office setup makes it much easier to jump into a conversation without causing any disturbance, in comparison to stepping into a physical space.
Additionally, since being in calls is more intense, it is important to break more often and intentionally. The role of the team was to equip the lead mentors to take lead to break the session into digestible forms.
Although the entrepreneurs and mentors were enthusiastic and willing to adapt to the unusual circumstances, there is of course, no perfect substitute for a face-to-face meeting. Mentoring is not just a methodological process. It’s an emotional one. Therefore a lot of the value of in-person collaboration and learning is found in the over the coffee-fueled breakfast conversations at the hotel or the socialisation in the evening. It is more important than ever to create this energy by check-ing in with the entire cohort to mirror these special moments.
With short notice, some elements of the week had to be taken out e.g., Sunday team building activities and workshops as well as the ecosystem safari where we would usually physically meet scale-ups in the locations we travel to.
During the mentoring days, as conversations are more time-consuming than face-to-face meetings (need to speak slowly and clearly), it takes much longer to introduce people and get to a conversation point. Therefore, it is important to have enough buffer and extend the duration of the sessions by at least 30% when remote mentoring.
It is also important to give enough time was given between the mentoring sessions for teams, mentors and mentees to interact and discuss their thoughts - to imitate the peer-to-peer bus conversations individuals would be having in real life.
The ability to dial in from home, or your comfortable work environment is a very convenient set up - reducing travel time for mentors who are very busy people.
“Not only did we manage to keep the program spirit high by raising curiosity about what’s beyond commonly known virtual meeting applications. But we also figured out how to structure ourselves better both content- and time-wise to keep the efficiency in absence of social interaction.”
— Florian Stehbeck, MAN Truck & Bus SE
It was challenging, but the virtual setup worked. And there were in fact many benefits from the new style of collaboration.
According to The Guardian, one long haul flight generates more carbon emissions than the average person in dozens of countries around the world produces in a year. Running a remote program, cuts travel which reduces greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution!
Additionally removing geographical boundaries means opening up to an unlimited pool of potential ‘mentors’, as more people will be willing to participate (and not travel) and the mentor profiles selected going forward can be very specific to the social entrepreneur’s needs.
We are all adapting to the ‘new normal’ so it’s important to take stock of our learnings along the way. How do we want to do things better on the other side?
“In the end, we’ve made the most out of what’s possible while keeping everyone safe & healthy by using latest technology. All of a sudden, the expression “Tech for Good” gets a totally different meaning. It’s situations like these that teach us about the importance of standing close as a society, but also about the need to rethink the way we create impact for the same – now more than ever before.””
— Florian Stehbeck, MAN Truck & Bus SE
We look forward to progressing and perfecting this set up for our next remote mentoring (the 10th - 14th May). If you have any tips or questions, please contact Solene, our Head of Impact Accelerator Communications.
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