Several clients have been musing over whether they should network while working from home, and if so, how to do it. Some people are still struggling with the challenges of the current work situation, so that simply managing one’s own work and keeping one’s team on track seem enough to contend with. Yet the difficulties of networking are really not so different from our everyday issues and, as there is no end in sight of the crisis and many people will be working partially or entirely from home for some time to come, let’s remind ourselves of what networking is for.
We network for many different reasons: to get information about a topic related to work, to update colleagues, to learn about developments in our field, to put out feelers about a potential job or business development opportunity, and generally to share knowledge and information. And we still need to do all of these things. The difference now, in times of restricted socialising and travel, is that we have lost many opportunities to network spontaneously: the quick pop into someone’s office, the after-office get-together, the catch-up with an old client on the edge of a meeting. We spend so much time on Skype or Zoom that a “how are you and what’s happening about project x?”-call often seems more than we want to handle. Let it go. I’ll do it tomorrow…when I have a moment…. Yet networking is actually fundamental to working in nearly all environments. We simply need to think about how we can network in a more systematic and virtually distanced way.
Determine why you need to network. Then you can decide who to reach out to. Charlie, whom I coached recently, is a new manager in a
new work environment which is only tangential to what he did before. He has been given a great opportunity, and he feels a lot of responsibility in his new role. We realised that networking meant a win-win situation for him. As the new kid on the block, Charlie needs to network, to learn about the industry and at the same time become visible to other people.
Part of the special value of networking is its social aspect. If you already know the person, make a real personal connection. And if you don’t know them already, get a personal introduction. What can you offer the other person? Through a learning and development project they were both participating in, Aisha realised she could help Kim by sharing know-how on a specific area, which opened doors
Online forums, webinars, and conferences are a good way in to a networking situation. And the online aspect works in your favour; it’s really easy to meet new people or reconnect with people you haven’t been in touch with for a while. In the webinars that I facilitate, I encourage participants to share stories about themselves, which nearly always leads to them finding interests and often backgrounds or experiences they have in common and exchanging contacts. Support networks start with one person reaching out.
When we see networking as a valuable part of work and not as an add-on, it becomes easier to make space and time for it; networking belongs in your schedule, just like all other activities, now more than ever. If we don’t continue to build and maintain our networks through this crisis, we may discover they’re very difficult to build up afterwards.