Collaboration & Feedback: How to Remotely Mentor Your Juniors

Early in my career, I loved my job because I got to make things. I still love making things, but now my favorite part of the job as a group creative director is seeing people grow, seeing people take on bigger challenges and conquer them, and seeing a team working well together. For me, the best way to feed that growth is through collaboration and offering ownership. But it took me a while to get there.

Effective collaboration and feedback make for better work. It’s as simple as that.

When I first started managing people, I was selfish about the work. I wanted to own the biggest and most ambitious projects. And I felt like I was the best person to own them since I was the most experienced. It wasn’t until I (desperately) needed help that I started giving away some of those favorite projects. And that’s when work got really fun.

It was like opening a Christmas present every day. My team didn’t always bring me fabulous work. Sometimes it was exactly what I was looking for; other times we had to visit the return counter. But in the best moments, I got something I didn’t know I wanted. Great work or not, my team started bringing me things that I would have never done. From there, we would craft something together. I was learning that more perspectives drove deeper and better work. And I started seeing that I’d spent much of my career with teams that didn’t collaborate. Things had changed, and I was hooked. More importantly, collaborating on those projects was the platform my team members needed to rise and to grow. And it made for better work.

Another thing happened when I started to give away the fun stuff: Project collaboration and job feedback blurred. Giving away the bigger and more ambitious projects created more collaborative moments and more complex things to work through. Feedback happened iteratively as I would look at work with my team (individually or collectively) and as we would look at the process. The annual review has never been the most valuable moment in mentoring. It’s the hundreds of small moments when we’re getting things done that matter. When that’s happening well, the annual review becomes a hangout and a celebration.

Remote work gives managers and their teams an opportunity to rethink connection in every sense of the word.

It’s different these days without side-by-side moments where the team comes together to brainstorm or to look at a project in progress. Or running into people in the kitchen and grabbing lunch together. The process of checking in has changed and is often clunky. We’re inundated with meetings and video conferences and are worn out from all the digital facetime. Zoom fatigue is real and significant.

Connecting takes longer. It’s more complicated. And time is scarce. But we’re still part of a team even if we’ve often lost the feel of a team.

These days I’m scheduling check-ins and often doing them without a specific project to check on. The projects are paramount—they’re why we have jobs. But I’m trying to pay more attention to the bigger picture of growing people, developing strength. Knowing their big picture helps me understand how to motivate someone to work toward our big picture.

Find out what your people want to do, what they want to learn, what they care about. And then connect them with opportunities and with other people. In these officeless days, I’ve been working on connecting people who might otherwise not meet and trying to create as many teaching and learning moments as possible. You know what people are good at. Give them opportunities to teach and connect them with those who are eager to learn.

Strong teams deliver strong work. The short story is that we can all continue to help each other grow and learn despite working remotely. Continuing to connect and developing new connections are the keys to making for better (remote) work.

Keep reading in Design & Development