How can you build and maintain professional connections when you can’t meet up in person? Making a long-distance (or trans-Atlantic!) mentorship work across time zones is no easy task under normal circumstances, and with the additional challenges the pandemic presented, ALSC mentee Aryssa Damron and ALSC mentor Celeste Rhoads had to lay out some ground rules together for communication before beginning our partnership. The ALSC mentorship program was a great opportunity to establish good communication habits across many channels, and many of the tricks and guidelines applied to this working relationship could be used to establish professional connections and maintain relationships with fellow-professionals outside of an official mentorship program.
Top 10 tips for making and maintaining long-distance connections:
- Reach out!
We really enjoyed connecting through the ALSC mentorship program. Outside of a formal program such as this one, if there’s someone you really want to meet, or a topic you’d like help on (for example: leading online programs, or learning about library management) ask a friend or coworker to put you in touch with someone in their network. Attending conferences and volunteering for committees are also great ways to meet like-minded people.
- Use all available channels to connect
We traded phone numbers immediately after being put in touch via email, and now we alternate between phone calls and video chat. If you’re hoping to make a new connection, ask if the person prefers to correspond via email, messaging, phone calls, or video chat, and if they’re open to meeting over a variety of channels.
- Don’t Just Rely on Email—Voices Go Far
It’s hard to feel like you “know” someone when you’re just emailing. The sound of the human voice cannot be undervalued. Not every aspect of communication has to be over the phone or Zoom, but knowing what the other person looks like, and knowing what their voice sounds like, can do a lot to build connections from afar. Even if you can’t meet up in person, it’s often more convivial to meet up over a virtual cup of tea or coffee than simply trading emails.
- Share a few personal details
Whether it’s a cat pic or a favorite recent read for the other fantasy fan, if you find some common interests to talk about and discuss you’ll truly build relationships. A great conversation starter is simply to ask what the person you’re speaking with has been reading for fun. Both of us have found new recommendations this way, and the conversation will often take a fun spin from there.
- Be frank about your communication/obligations
We all have to be at the desk sometimes, and some of us may have little ones underfoot. If you have a call scheduled but something unexpected has come up, let the other person on the line know what you’re dealing with at the beginning of the call, by saying something along the lines of “I have to let you know that my cat might step on my keyboard or walk across the screen since I’m working from the living room today.”
If you’ll be taking time off, set that vacation reminder, but also let important people know ahead of time if you can, so they won’t be surprised when they don’t hear from you for a few days, and so you can plan for a good time to catch up.
- Stay in touch regularly
Having a regular schedule to your conversations—every two weeks, for us—helps keep the mentorship manageable. Things are spread out far enough to allow for work in between each talk, but you don’t end up catching each other up on life over the past two months and eating up your time.
- Be flexible, but be communicative
If you need to move a scheduled meeting from one day to another, shoot to communicate that at least 72 hours in advance. This way, you can adjust physical calendar reminders as well as make any adjustments needed to your mental schedule to make sure you can make the best of your time talking with your mentor. Things always come up. While a set schedule is nice, be sure to communicate the need for change as it arises.
Don’t forget to verify time zones! Note the time zone for your meetings every time you can, or in each email. If you make a date to call,in your sendoff you could write: See you on Monday the 7th at 10am EST/4pm CET!
- One goal, not singular focus
While this mentorship did have a specific goal—Aryssa’s mindfulness storytime project—that was not all that we talked about. People are more than just their one goal, and we all have a lot going on at work and at home. Don’t be afraid to talk about your other projects, especially as they relate to your ability to tackle your specific mentorship goal.
This is true for relationships outside of an official mentorship program. Don’t hesitate to bring up new projects with the people you meet through work, and to ask for feedback and advice!
- Share content & moments when you can
Being across the ocean, and in different time zones, means you and your mentor can’t always be attending the same events at the same time. It also meant that it was easier for me to send Celeste links to my Mindfulness story time program AFTER the fact, rather than asking her to tune in when it would be bedtime for her on a Friday night. Use the magic of the internet to your advantage, rather than letting a time and space difference keep you apart.
- There’s no one way to be a mentor or mentee
The internet is full of tips and tricks on how to be a mentor or what to look for in a mentor, but you don’t have to follow them verbatim. Especially virtually, and especially in a pandemic, your mentorship is going to look different. Keep what works, trash what doesn’t, and don’t be afraid to ask questions like, “Is this something we can talk about?” If you’re not sure what topics are appropriate, let the other person know. Worst case scenario, if you have an issue your mentor can’t help with, they can connect you with someone who can. Some mentorships are more casual, some are more formal, and most are somewhere in between.
Today’s guest bloggers are Celeste Rhoads and Aryssa Damron. This piece was written cooperatively in the spirit of the ALSC Mentorship program.
Celeste Rhoads is originally from John Steinbeck’s hometown of Salinas, California, where she read on the beach, in trees, on road trips, and everywhere in between. She moved to Paris in 2005, and immediately found a home at the American Library in Paris, volunteering in the Children’s and Teens’ Services Department. She was hired as the Children’s and Teens’ Services Manager in 2010 to oversee the Library’s collections, policies, and programs for ages 0–18. Celeste has a master’s degree in Library Science from Rutgers University, where she focused on digital libraries, and children’s literature. Celeste enjoys connecting people of all ages with great reads—especially contemporary titles. She has served on numerous book selection committees, including the Young Adult Library Services Best Fiction for Young Adults Commitee, and Great Graphic Novels for Young Adults Committee, and she has written for the BnF’s “La Revue des Livres Pour Enfants” about American children’s literature post-Sendak.
Aryssa Damron is a youth services librarian with DCPL. She holds a BA in English from Yale University and a MSLS from the University of Kentucky. She is the author of “The Path to the Ivy League Leads Straight Through the Public Library,” a chapter in the book Hope and a Future: Perspectives on the Impact that Librarians and Libraries Have on our World. Her ongoing scholarship focuses on Louisa May Alcott, mindfulness, and underrepresented women in children’s literature, among other things. She currently serves on the 2022 Andrew Carnegie Medal Committee.
Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.