How can you successfully network in a virtual world? Hays’ Barney Ely shares his tips, from establishing a connection online to taking part in virtual volunteering.
Working remotely can present barriers when it comes to expanding your network, particularly if you don’t have years of experience in your industry behind you. You’ll probably have to be more deliberate and dedicated about connecting with others and look more proactively for occasions where you can put yourself out there.
However, there are plenty of opportunities if you look for them, so there’s no need to stop networking even though most of us are working remotely at present. Here are some ideas of how to keep connecting with others virtually.
Perfect for touching base with colleagues, mentors, clients and customers, try your hand at hosting a virtual catch-up. It might be a mid-morning coffee with a client over Skype, a virtual lunch hour shared with your department, a drop-in afternoon tea session on Microsoft Teams with customers or after-work Zoom drinks with your team.
Connecting via video is the next best thing to meeting face-to-face and will facilitate a more natural conversation with whoever you’re meeting.
Instant messaging platforms
You might not realise it, but you already have access to a powerful networking tool which can connect you to other people immediately. Instant messaging apps such as Slack, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts and Skype for Business can be used to start or maintain a conversation with other professionals inside and outside of your organisation in a more casual manner.
Bear in mind that if it’s someone you haven’t met before, a formal introduction (albeit a remote one) is usually necessary before making contact via message. But if you have a good relationship with the person then there’s no reason why you can’t establish a line of communication over an instant messaging platform for both of your convenience.
Webinars and virtual events
The events industry has had to move almost entirely online since the outbreak of Covid-19 and, as a result, there are literally hundreds of opportunities accessible to you where you can learn from industry experts and connect with like-minded professionals.
Although the ‘mingling’ aspect of an event can’t be replicated virtually, it’s definitely worth taking note of the people who you might want to make contact with and connecting with them on LinkedIn. It always helps to write a personalised message when you connect, explaining how you came across their profile and why you wanted to reach out.
Social media is a great tool for expanding your network virtually, and there’s more to it than simply making a connection on LinkedIn. Follow individuals who you consider to be leaders in your field, join and engage with professionals in different groups and profile your own thoughts and work.
The more you put in, the more you’ll get out of it. So, set aside some time each day or week to explore the potential it has to expand your network.
It might not be networking in the traditional sense, but volunteering is an opportunity to meet new people and expand your contacts in ways that align with your passion.
In a voluntary role, you’ll likely encounter people from lots of different walks of life who will all be able to impart different perspectives, advice and wisdom to you. It’s worth keeping in touch with anyone who made a particular impression on you as you never know how your paths might cross again in the future.
Where can you support and add value?
There are many professionals wishing to network even though our working world remains predominately virtual for the time being, and there are bound to be instances where you can help, support or facilitate others in doing this.
It could be sending someone an article you think might interest them, setting up a group on LinkedIn or simply putting two people in touch.
Along with the ideas above, see where you can add value to others in their networking efforts. After all, putting people in touch has the benefit of strengthening your relationship with them, too.
By Barney Ely
Barney Ely is a regional managing director at Hays.