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Offline vs. Online: How Do Traditional and E-Mentoring Compare?


As mentoring becomes more and more popular in the workplace, many organizations are struggling with whether to implement a face-to-face mentoring program or a digital one. There are benefits and drawbacks to both methods, and it’s important that you understand them before moving forward with a mentoring program.

Mentoring may be described as a strategic relationship based on trust. This is true regardless of whether the mentorship takes place in person or in an online format. Trust is key no matter what the setting, and it is possible to build strong relationships both on and offline. Keep this in mind as you weigh your options.

Let’s begin with face-to-face mentoring, since it’s the traditional format and is familiar to most people.

Offline/ Face-to-Face Mentoring - Benefits and Drawbacks

The benefits of traditional mentoring are fairly straight-forward. It gives mentors and mentees a face to put to the name. Meetings are live and in-person, allowing participants to converse organically and learn each other’s personalities and mannerisms. Many people are still more comfortable talking with a live person than they are typing on a computer, since it feels more personal and authentic. Gaining answers to important questions and working on tasks can be easier in person, since both participants are present and focused.

The primary drawback to traditional mentoring is that it is restricted to geographical proximity. Mentors and mentees must live and/or work near each other to make regular in-person meetings feasible. This inevitably means that concerns about location, availability, and convenience come into play.

In addition to limitations brought on by geographical necessity, communication between mentors and mentees can be limited with traditional mentoring. This is because younger or inexperienced businessmen and women often feel nervous or shy and end up holding back when they should be asking questions or offering information. Face-to-face interactions with a powerful and experienced professional can be intimidating to someone who is just starting out in their field.


Online / E-mentoring – Benefits and Drawbacks

E-mentoring eliminates the geographical barriers presented by traditional mentoring. Mentors can meet any time, anywhere. Meetings can be scheduled on the fly and conducted in numerous formats. If a mentee has a question, they can simply ping their mentor and check back later for the answer. Advances in technology, such as mentor/mentee matching, video conferencing, and mobile technology have made it possible to start and carry out an effective mentorship entirely online, without mentors and mentees have ever met in person.

E-mentoring allows participants to easily share networks and resources, as well as effectively track the mentorship as it progresses. All history of communication is in one place and accessible to both mentor and mentee at any time. In this sense, e-mentoring allows a mentorship to be even more “live” than traditional mentoring.

The drawbacks of e-mentoring are few, but they must be considered when implementing a new mentoring program. By its very nature, e-mentoring requires both mentors and mentees to have easy access to technology, such as a computer or lap top, a reliable Internet connection, and a means of communication, like a mentoring platform, email service, or video conferencing program. Access to these components is growing around the world, but their necessity can still present a challenge to some people.

Interacting in a digital format can sometimes present challenges to engagement. E-mentoring requires a certain level of self-direction that can be difficult for employees who are used to receiving instruction and having their work planned out for them. E-mentoring—and traditional mentoring, too—requires active participation from both mentor and mentee, and ensuring there a high level of engagement should always be a primary goal with any mentoring relationship.

If you're considering implementing a new mentorship program into the workplace, consider both the benefits and the drawbacks of the different formats. Talk to your managers and employees about what they hope to achieve from the program and how it can best be designed to meet their needs. It may be that you choose to take elements from traditional and e-mentoring and combine them to devise a unique mentoring program garnered for the success of your team. 

If this post resonated with you, check with your organization to see whether you are part of the MentorCloud network. If not, sign up for a demo here! Our vision is to create a mentoring planet in which true equality is achieved and hard work is rewarded, but it's only possible with your participation.