Home » News & Blogs » E-Mentoring or Face-to-Face?
Published on 8th July 2024

E-Mentoring or Face-to-Face?


According to the Office of National Statistics, 44% of UK workers worked in some form of remote capacity in 2023, with 16% being full-time remote workers and 28% being hybrid workers who split their time between office and home-based work. As a consequence, most workers are now familiar with attending virtual meetings via video or phone conferencing facilities.  Building on this, we wanted to consider the benefits of e-mentoring and which is better: e-mentoring or face-to-face mentoring.

The Centre for Economic Policy Research undertook some research in October 2021 looking at the efficiency of online meetings in comparison to in-person meetings.  They found that small meetings up to a maximum of four participants were perceived by the participants as efficient.  This was because the participants were able to see and hear one another clearly; they interacted fairly naturally, not talking over the top of one another; and so it did not require participants to be muted.  Such online meetings save on travel and allow the sharing of documents more easily.  The research found that participants in large meetings of over ten online found these meetings much more difficult. This is because participants generally have to be muted so conversations can be stilted, and with so many camera views, it can be difficult to see individuals’ facial expressions.

Drawing on the CEPR’s findings, it would seem that mentoring, which generally takes place between two people, can easily work online.  It has the advantages that the geographical location of the mentor and mentee doesn’t matter and mentoring sessions can be set up more quickly as travelling time does not have to be factored into the mentor’s and mentee’s diaries.

However, mentoring requires the mentor and mentee to build and cultivate a relationship – can a relationship be built online? The simple answer is yes, but there are certain elements that the mentor and mentee need to consider:

Online conversations tend to miss out the niceties of human interaction.  Generally when we physically walk into a meeting, we will ask questions like “how is your day” or “how was your weekend”.  These side-conversations can reveal what is important to the person, and build rapport by identifying interests or approaches that the two people have in common.  Therefore the mentor may want to build this into the start of the meeting.

Another consideration is non-verbal communication.  One of the most well-known research projects into non-verbal communication was led by Dr Mehrabian, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles.  This study which took place in the 1960s identified that conveying a message was 7% verbal, 38% vocal and 55% visual – so a whopping 93% is non-verbal communication.  This is no different whether the conversation is in person or online.

Traditionally non-verbal communication can be segregated into our voice, facial expressions, head movement, hand gestures, posture, fidgeting, physical distance, as well as our physical appearance – i.e. how we are dressed and even if we have made an effort to brush our hair.  However, with online conversations the non-verbal communication is wider, including:

  • Our physical background – is it in-keeping with a professional environment and is it tidy. A cluttered background can be distracting for the other person and can suggest that the person does not have clarity of thoughts
  • The angle and distance of our camera – does it allow the other person to see our facial expressions and hand gestures. Also we should ensure that we do not position the camera below our chin, forcing others to look up at us, as naturally we do not like people as much if they are not on the same level as us.  It is also unacceptable to not have the camera turned on – you would not put a paper bag over your head in an in-person meeting, so do not do this online.
  • Background noises should be minimised, providing a calm environment with no distractions.
  • Concentration – some people seem to think that they can read emails or texts, or even do other work when they are on an online meeting, and the other people will not realise. This is not the case – people can tell when someone is not concentrating in the meeting.  Again you would not do this in a face-to-face meeting, so it is not acceptable in an online meeting.

In summary, online mentoring can work just as well as in-person mentoring, and has some additional benefits in terms of efficiency and availability.  However, both the mentor and mentee need to ensure they give the online mentoring meeting the time and respect it requires to ensure optimum results.