We all know the power of casual networking; attending the right events, asking the right questions to the right people, catching-up with old contacts over drinks and inviting news ones for coffee. We know that by making the right connections, we can propel our career or help grow a business.
But with employees having been sent to work from home in an instant and conferences and events being cancelled around the world, the act of "casual" networking is no longer possible. The interactions and chats that happened in the coffee break at an event, in a networking session, or over dinner have moved to Zoom and are even harder to get into than ever before. While the majority of the workforce has adapted naturally to the art of communication while working remotely, it would seem that networking is one of the few remaining bottlenecks in the true digital transformation of the modern workplace.
It isn't just the lack of face-to-face interactions making it more difficult; research by INSEAD business school found that men are more likely to get professional help from their contacts than women and racial biases can also play a major role in networking’s effectiveness. Evidently, it has never been a level playing field for women or ethnic minorities who will have to work harder to hone their skills.
While there really is no comparison to making a great new connection in person or catching-up with an old contact over lunch, people are adapting to introducing themselves to people and setting up meetings via email and video calls. Even if it is not the same, it is still possible to a certain degree.
Here's my tips on how to network effectively in the "new normal" (yes, I'm as sick of that term as you are and, yes, I hate myself for putting it here and in the title):
- First and foremost:
- Be sensitive to people's current situation - you do not know what is going on with their health, their family, their work life etc.
- It’s about giving, not receiving - if you want to be successful at networking, you have to remember that it isn’t about you but about building relationships; and they aren’t one-way streets
- Contact people you haven't heard from in a while: be authentic, reach out and ask them how they are
- Make yourself invaluable: find a problem to solve, whether that's internally or for a client
- Get your name in front of people: thoroughly update your LinkedIn - the more active you are, the more people you will pop up in front of
- Approach new contacts: connect with people on LinkedIn whose work you admire, send them a personal message with the connection request asking for advice on a specific business issue or situation - it's flattering and most people are receptive to people asking for help
- Face-to-face: if you are talking to someone new, make it over video call - it is much easier to build a connection with someone when you can see their expressions and reactions
- Be patient: times are hard, people have varying levels of pressure - be grateful if you get a response at all!
To this end, Racioppi recommended that people network with potential mentors that have a different background to their own. For example, if someone works in operations, she suggested trying to reach out to a prospective mentor with a background in sales or marketing. “This will help you understand how individuals in these different functions view their business and are dealing with today’s challenges,” she explained. Webber agreed, citing LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, who has been vocal about the problem of the “network gap” on social media platforms, where people have been encouraged to take their existing networks online. “Now is the perfect time to reflect on your network and start to build up and increase your network so you and your business are well positioned for when the fog lifts,” she added.