As businesses adapt to the new reality of remote work brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, so too will we adapt the social behaviors that enable us to stay in touch and forge new relationships with coworkers, partners, customers, and potential clients.
Ironically, virtual networking can sometimes foster strong ties even more quickly than face-to-face interactions – think virtual happy hours, for example. A recent Wall Street Journal article says, “The inability to be with friends and loved ones who aren’t under the same roof during a stressful and scary time has pushed individuals to be creative with technology that is more often used for business meetings.”
In these moments of social decompression, humor often replaces boardroom etiquette as wine glasses clink and virtual “cheers” cut through the daily anxieties and uncertainty. Companies are also adding virtual morning coffee breaks, lunchtime trivia sessions, and other events that enable employees to socialize and rekindle relationships.
Breaking out of the norm is especially important these days because so little is normal. This pandemic has forced us to appreciate the value of social capital and our ability to interact with one another. The antidote to this forced social experiment is leveraging collaborative productivity technologies to enhance interpersonal connections.
It’s more important than ever to embrace these tools to connect with colleagues, foster job satisfaction, and even build new relationships. Here are a few ideas on how to get started.
How to make new connections: What do you bring?
The first principle of networking – whether virtually or in person – is to understand that networking is not synonymous with selling. The second is to ask what you bring to the relationship. Ask yourself: Why would this person want to connect with me?
If reach out only when you need help, others will withdraw. Cultivate relationships in good times so that folks will be there when you need them. Ask the people in your network what you can do for them – perhaps you can help them make new connections with your colleagues.
Before you make a new connection, make sure you are clear on your purpose – for instance, do you want to learn about a company, an industry, a technology, an interest, or a hobby? Find out who the leaders (companies or individuals) are in that area. Then determine who you already know in this area, and who might they be able to introduce you to. Your personal contacts and LinkedIn are two great sources for this.
Make connections before your next career move
Don’t make the mistake of finding yourself in the market for a job and realizing you’ve neglected your network. Given the demands of our professional and personal lives, it’s worth taking the time to cultivate and maintain our connections.
If you are job hunting, don’t come out and ask your contacts for a job – instead, ask them who you can connect with. Most people want to help, but they might feel uncomfortable if you are too direct. So instead of “Are you hiring for XYZ opportunity?”, try this: “Would you be willing to share some ideas or names of people I can reach out to help me secure XYZ opportunity?”
How to network at virtual conferences
Completely virtual conferences are a relatively new concept. Obtaining attendee lists may not be feasible, but you can easily get speaker and panel representatives, along with their company names.
Consider emailing these individuals after the event, to ask questions or offer feedback. Ask if they would be willing to speak with you briefly to brainstorm on individuals and companies in the space you are targeting. Take a risk and put yourself out there – the worst that can happen is that they will say no.
Finally, consider how you can bring value to a conference – if you or one of your clients participate in a session or panel, it could open new opportunities to expand your network.
Creating and maintaining virtual relationships is now fundamental to maintaining mental health as well as business success. Leaders, you can help by encouraging employees to attend online networking events, webinars, and chat rooms in groups not specifically related to their jobs.
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