I'm realizing now that I've spent the majority of 2020 in lockdown, working from home. Beyond no longer seeing my colleagues on a daily basis—often not even in virtual meetings—I feel disconnected from my existing network and the network I aimed to build to help me reach my career goals. Since it looks like remote working is going to continue for quite a while longer, I feel I need to learn how to network virtually or else I'm going to feel stagnant in my current role. Is it even possible to effectively network virtually, though? If so, how can I do it?
This is a great question, considering networking was hardly the easiest thing to do before COVID-19 hit. And now, as many are quarantining at home and working remotely, it appears to be even trickier to connect with others to grow your network and level up your career. Rest assured, though, you can still “move and shake” and “schmooze” during this time. Doing so just might look a little different than what you're used to.
I'm aware that many people hear or read the word “networking” and immediately feel triggered—it's simply one of those polarizing words that can bring a smile to one’s face just as easily as it can seem like a chore best put off for another day to someone else. But what really, networking is just a fancy word for building new relationships and fostering existing ones.
Really, networking is just a fancy word for building new relationships and fostering existing ones.
Before the pandemic, networking could happen easily in passive ways: in the break room, in the hallways, in meetings, and at conferences. Now, we must redefine what relationship-building looks like in a virtual setting. Our former hotel ballrooms for events are now replaced with a Zoom room or Google Hangout.
So, to help you make sure you're conveying the same vigor and taking the same initiative in virtual networking opportunities as you would in in-person ones, I have three tips to help you navigate your personal and professional network during the pandemic.
3 tips for how to network virtually
1. Practice makes perfect
Pick one or two colleagues at work you haven't had a chance to connect with and invite them to a 15-minute virtual coffee or lunch. If you aren’t used to striking up new conversations, this is a great way to start. You don’t have to tell your life story, but a friendly conversation, in which you can ask them about their role and interests outside of work, can go a long way in terms of relationship building.
You can also use this strategy to reconnect with someone—at your company or elsewhere—you haven't caught up with in awhile. Given that so many people working from home and are looking for ways to connect, there's a good chance your invitation will be met with enthusiasm. They might never admit it, but the other person is probably looking to put their networking skills into action just like you are.
2. Follow up, and then follow back up
If you attend a virtual conference that offers the opportunity for virtual networking, take advantage of it. Someone you meet today could be a beneficial contact for you to have in five years, and vice versa.
To make the most of these opportunities, dedicate energy to remembering personal information about people: birthdays, favorite sports teams, and something related to their family. That's because taking stock of personal details and also remembering common experiences you share fosters the ability to effortlessly stay in touch with amazing people you meet along the way. For instance, to anyone you connect with this year, you can always say, “Remember when we met during the quarantine of 2020?”
A personal example comes to mind: About six years ago, when I was working in fundraising, I was raising money for a college venture capital fund in Silicon Valley and I regularly met with some of the top venture capitalists in the country. At the time, I didn’t realize how important those relationships would be. Now, as an entrepreneur, I have a great network to tap into. I stayed in contact, wishing them a happy anniversary and checking in when their children went off to college. That wasn’t part of my job—I genuinely wanted to stay in touch—but I’ve heard time and time again how much they appreciated that I remembered those milestones. Because I followed up, they remembered things about me and we continue to foster our relationship. Reciprocity goes a long way!
Furthermore, I haven’t physically seen a number of the people I met years ago in person for quite some time; I stay connected virtually, like most of us are mandated to do now. This provides evidence that networking virtually is absolutely possible.
3. Be authentic
Sometimes you meet people who pride themselves on being networking kings and queens, but some lack tact. No one likes feeling as though someone is only schmoozing them because they want something in return. So, take time to get to know people and let people get to know you. I can’t stress this enough!
These three tips have helped me build some priceless relationships. No matter who it is you're meeting, each instance is an opportunity to build better networking skills and nurture fantastic relationships. Because ultimately, networking—virtually or in person—doesn’t have to be daunting; building new relationships can be fun.
Minda Harts is the author of the best-selling book The Memo: What Women of Color Need To Know To Secure A Seat At The Table. She is the CEO of The Memo LLC and an Adjunct Professor at NYU Wagner. She hosts a podcast and LinkedIn Live Show called Secure The Seat. Minda lives in New York and has a French bulldog named Boston. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram, and sign up for her newsletter here.
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