Wear a mask. Stay six feet apart. Don’t travel unless it’s essential. By now, we’re all familiar with the social distancing guidelines experts suggest for staying healthy during the pandemic.
While it makes sense to keep our physical distance from people, there’s no reason you need to stop connecting with people socially. Especially since networking continues to remain an important ingredient in career success.
Given it’s unlikely that you’ll be sitting down at a coffee shop to share a latte with somebody, rubbing elbows at a work party or attending an industry conference anytime soon, how do you keep networking? Luckily, many forms of relationship-building are still viable despite the current conditions. It just takes a little bit of creativity to adapt to these new realities.
As I’ve been working with many of my career coaching clients to adapt their networking efforts to today’s unusual times, I’ve discovered five network-friendly developments to provide a bit of inspiration for your outreach efforts.
1. You’ve Got a Built-In Icebreaker
When networking, it’s easy to struggle with making small talk or coming up with a compelling reason to reach out to someone. These days, however, this aspect of networking is a slam dunk. With the pandemic dominating many aspects of our lives right now, you can always check in with people to see how they — or their business — are faring.
You don’t need to have a brilliant game plan in place when you reach out, just practice human kindness. Be thoughtful and show them you care. If there’s one thing this crisis is teaching us, it’s that our entire lives don’t necessarily have to be transactional. Gestures of goodwill and pure friendship are more than allowed!
2. Everybody’s Now a Zoom Master
Before the pandemic, there were plenty of people that had little-to-zero experience with web conferencing. Now, that number is dropping dramatically. Whether it’s that elderly relative who has finally learned to fire up Facetime or a senior executive forced to become a self-reliant Skype user, almost everybody has had a crash course on working with these systems in recent months.
With a growing number of people now welcoming the possibility of video chats, web conferencing is likely going to be an even greater staple of the business world going forward. Don’t hesitate to use video calls to set up catch-up sessions with your business colleagues and allies. It’s the next best thing to seeing them in real life.
3. Organizations Are Adapting to the New Realities
For decades, professional societies and associations have been one of the most effective networking channels out there for folks looking to build valuable connections. Alas, due to current stay-at-home restrictions, these organizations have had to cease their in-person events and activities. Luckily, a great many of these groups have brainstormed creative new ways to foster interactions and quality networking among their members.
For example, the Seattle Times recently published a list of over 100 local organizations and groups that have pivoted to provide some form of online offering. So be sure to check if any associations you belong to have launched any web-based networking options. Or, if you’re an officer in such an organization, consider launching a creative new type of cyber-gathering yourself!
4. Social Media is Tailor-Made for This Challenge
There’s never been a better time to embrace the advantages of social media and get smarter about using these tools to promote yourself.
You might want to update your social profiles with fresh content, use them to reconnect with old acquaintances or send out regular messages to keep people abreast of your activities. Even sharing the occasional helpful article or funny link can be enough to keep you top-of-mind with your network. It’s the thought that counts —and connecting digitally is one of the best vehicles available when seeing people in-person isn’t possible.
5. Learning-Centered Networking Opportunities Abound
Given a lot of us are at home with some extra time on our hands, now can be a great time to learn some new skills, get in shape or explore a new career.
Are there online classes you’ve been dreaming about taking? Are there people in your industry you’ve always admired and wanted to get to know? Is there a new career you’ve contemplated that it would make sense for you to research further via informational interviews with established professionals?
If so, there’s no better time than the present to act. Most people seem more receptive to networking notes and outreach efforts at the moment — at least according to the quick straw poll I took of my client base.
Despite the temporary sacrifices we’re all having to make, quality networking opportunities don’t necessarily have to be yet another casualty of the coronavirus. Sure, handshakes and power lunches are going to be on the outs for a while, but as the examples above have illustrated, maintaining great relationships doesn’t require being in a person’s physical presence. We have an amazing range of tools to facilitate interactions and show our friends, family and business contacts that we care about them. We just have to use them.