Eight months since the start of the pandemic and many of us are craving those casual chats at the water cooler, the quick connects in the cafeteria, as well as networking lunches or drinks. The truth is that how and where we work will be forever changed due to COVID and we need to adapt to new ways of working and this includes how we network.
The definition of networking I most connect with is one I heard from author Melinda Harts who states, “Networking is just a fancy word for building new relationships and fostering existing ones.” Both internal and external networking are critical to driving career success and doing it remotely is now here to stay. We have to intentionally redefine what networking looks like in a virtual setting.
Consider the following ideas as you think about growing and nurturing your network both within your organization and externally:
- Ensure mutual benefit – It should not be all about your agenda and what someone can do for you. Think about how you can help others and pay it forward. Networking should be authentic and reciprocal. This is the golden rule of networking (whether face-to-face or remote) and should always be kept top of mind.
- Be purposeful – Be deliberate with whom you network as well as the goal of any outreach. For internal networking, create a physical map of who you know and who you should know to increase your ability to both get your job done more effectively, as well as those who can help you with the next step in your career. There are lots of examples online.
Your contacts should be intentional. Have a specific objective for each contact. Besides checking in on them personally, what do you hope to accomplish? Advice in a particular area that aligns with the person’s expertise, their opinion on a business issue, or a connection to someone in their network?
- Don’t be shy – You will find, in most cases, your request to connect will be met with enthusiasm. People are really craving connection right now. For many, they have a few more hours in their day due to lack of business travel and/or a daily commute. A quick conversation during the day is more possible now than it may have been preCOVID. The exception here are parents with small children who are balancing work and remote schooling. Their world is more difficult so think of ways to connect like text and e-mail that might fit better with their schedule. A quick, empathetic note to check in will continue to build that relationship.
- The “how” matters – Select the method of communication that makes the most sense. It really depends on how well you know someone. For those existing relationships you are continuing to nurture, more casual, quick check-ins work. Emails, texts, and internally, IM or Slack. However, face to face connections always enhance the relationship. But be aware of your contact’s needs, sometimes a Zoom meeting requires more of the person (to get out of their PJs or workout clothes!). Make it convenient, offer a call during their lunchtime walk or at the end of the day. When connecting with someone you don’t know well or at all, always try to set up a short virtual coffee. It is so much more personal and you both will get a better sense of each other.
- Thank/Track/Follow-up – After you’ve had a conversation, always send a quick thank you email and follow-up on any commitments you made. Figure out a method to capture your interactions. Whether it is a simple Excel spreadsheet or a more sophisticated system, capture at a minimum the date you connected, a few details on the interaction (including something personal you can refer to next time) and most importantly, when you plan to follow-up. Revisit this spreadsheet at least weekly and identify those upcoming follow-up dates and be sure to stay in periodic touch.
For external networking, LinkedIn is a must! Make sure you have LinkedIn with current and former colleagues and bosses, vendors, industry/functional contacts, and contacts from professional associations. LinkedIn makes this easy by recommending “people you might know.” But don’t forget those social connections: college friends, alumni associations and friends from various shared activities (tennis team, church, children’s friends parents). You never know who knows whom. When sending an invitation to LinkedIn to someone you don’t know or don’t know well, always add a note, regardless of whether someone in your network suggested that you reach out them. Whatever it is, give them a reason to want to connect with you. Also, don’t just accept LinkedIn invitations and then stop. This is not a real connection yet. Would this person likely do you a favor or think of you when they see a job opportunity? Probably not. You should follow-up with every accepted invitation and ask for a quick, casual 15-minute Zoom conversation to truly solidify a connection.
With LinkedIn you need to check it regularly and respond. At a minimum, don’t go more than a week without checking your account. Better yet, review your daily feed. See what is going on with your contacts. This will give you an easy reason to reach out. Also, get in the conversation. By commenting on or forwarding a post, you’ll stay on the minds of those in your network. And by posting original content you will be seen as someone with a point of view and may even attract people outside your network to connect with you.
Over the years I have learned, the word “networking” is polarizing – for some the word elicits a smile while others pure dread! I have good news for those introverts who dread it: I believe networking has gotten easier for you now that it has gone virtual. Gone are the feared ballrooms filled with hundreds of people. One to one is so much more your speed and although conventional wisdom would say extroverts are better at networking I don’t think this is necessarily true. As I said earlier, have a goal for the conversation and cover it. Extroverts often get so energized by the conversation, they forget the purpose! Besides just thinking about the purpose, jot down a few questions you’d like to ask. This will you prepare for the unlikely chance of awkward silences.
Meaningful networking can be done remotely. Remember to work it into your schedule on a regular basis. Set goals. How many people will you commit to reach out to in your network this week? How many LinkedIn invitations sent per week is reasonable? Lastly try to have at least one virtual coffee a week and really push yourself so that it isn’t always with an existing contact but a brand new one.
Next time, we will discuss group networking events and how to leverage them virtually. Then, we will wrap up the series with FAQs around networking. So reach out and let us know your questions.