Hybrid theory–a shift in mentorship

by Scott Steffes with Allie Bosarge

Since early on in my career, I have been very fond of mentorship. I relish many aspects of this unique collaboration but among the most enjoyable is the ability to see the growth of young designers’ creativity. I have mentored and been mentored in various settings, from in studio to in office, but until recently have never experienced the dynamic entirely virtually. In recently collaborating with my colleague, Allie Bosarge (our time together being her first project in an interior design role), we identified discoveries in this hybrid setting that could help inform future collaboration and positively impact young designers’ confidence in using their voice.

I believe three core values of good mentorship are connection, confidence, and trust. Now take these intended values and add space (the virtual setting) and new obstacles (time zones, training new team members, software like BIM, etc.) into the mix. Does this affect the ability to meet goals? It could, but we don’t believe it has to. What we did find was that it requires a pivot in perspective, approach, and expectations.

Diversity by Design
One of the many hybrid benefits has been the ability to broaden connections with colleagues outside your office, or even your time zone. And while this has indeed expanded connections, strength in communication has been key to maintain an efficient workflow between the mentor and mentee.

With me located in Phoenix, Arizona and the Allie located in Boston, Massachusetts, we had to manage our different time zones so that we were connecting frequently and respecting each other’s work hours. We found that a start of the day or end of the day check-in worked quite well, outside of the larger team meetings, to cover important topics or discuss plans for that day or week. Working virtually and eliminating other factors, such as commute or lack of downtime in between meetings, allowed us to be more flexible with time.

What once was more of a challenge or hassle, is evolving to be seen as an opportunity. Coming together in person will always be an excellent or even a vital part of mentorship, but these virtual environments are allowing us to work more seamlessly given the time variation and physical distance.

Photography copyright for left image: www.alwusa.com

The Space Between Us

There is something about proximity with mentorship. It’s the energy, the connection, sketching. Without physical proximity, sample coordination in particular became a challenging task. Normally, we would review physical materials in-person both internally and with the client. In a virtual setting, we implemented a different way to coordinate reviewing physical samples. We researched the products and sent samples to home addresses to review virtually. Although this specific task is much preferred to do in person, we did find some new proximity-based traits that blossomed from learning the process in a distanced mentorship.

  1. Intentional work. We discovered that with hybrid mentorship there is a need to be more intentional with how and when we communicate. For example, scheduling calls to review the physical samples virtually allowed Allie to research and prepare concise questions and thoughts before meeting to discuss further.
  2. Self-guided learning. Training virtually as an interior designer required independent learning and some tasks to be self-taught. This resulted in the unique opportunity for Allie to feel more confident in vocalizing her own ideas early in the training process.
Some of the samples Scott and Allie reviewed both virtually and through physical deliveries.
An Easier “We”
We have often seen inclusion as a tough part of mentorship. We want someone learning to be immersed in everything, but logistics might limit involvement such as financial restrictions, travel availability or the quantity of people needed / desired at a meeting. These can be real barriers to mentorship.

With this remote and virtual world, there are no longer the same conditions affecting involvement. It is easier for a mentee to sit in on meetings more often. We have found space for more engagement which Allie and I see as one of the top benefits of our collaboration.

One large hurdle we have yet to tackle is the ability to visit sites to look at existing projects or see projects under construction. This is a vital learning opportunity for any member in the industry, especially young designers. Time will tell how we will approach this, but it is certainly a very serious opportunity that needs to be at top of mind as we learn together.

Wow, You Sure Have Grown
At first glance, it may seem that virtual mentorship could deter growth potential. Given our recent experience, we believe that there is a shifting paradigm of growth – it may not look the way it once did but there is opportunity to shine.

In this hybrid setting, we’re seeing new space for mentees to explore their own potential and engage at their own pace in more of a self-reflective way. Younger staff, specifically, seem to be taking more ownership of their ideas, whereas in other environments they may feel shadowed or less vocal. It’s rewarding to see this shift in confidence as it’s important that young designers find pride and responsibility in their work.

Our greatest takeaway from this hybrid mentor experience is to be open minded, shift your perspective to think differently than what you are used to and discover what works best for you. Re-define success for the mentor and the mentee based on the given relationship tools and boundaries. Change can be understandably difficult or stressful, but you might also realize some hidden strengths that become gems in the experience.

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