Building strong professional relationships is always a challenge. With most Americans now working from home, we face the need to build our networks virtually. The Covid-19 pandemic has undoubtedly accelerated the shift toward remote work. About two-thirds of the workforce in the United States now telecommutes most or all of the time, making virtual network building not just an important goal, but a necessity for many.
Whether you’re a business owner or manager, an employee, a freelancer, or a job seeker, it’s vital to understand how to network remotely and how to build strong and lasting relationships in business. This article explores our changing workplace environments and explains how to navigate the new virtual networking process successfully.
How Covid & Remote Work Have Impacted Networking
There’s no doubt that workplace practices and relationships have shifted rapidly, and nearly every industry is facing the need to adapt just as quickly. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected every aspect of the modern office environment. Workers don’t see their managers and coworkers every day in the office break room anymore. A job seeker might interview for and accept a position without ever meeting their new employer in person. A small-business owner may live hundreds or even thousands of miles from their nearest client.
But all of this doesn’t mean these relationships are any less important. In fact, networking is arguably more vital in a virtual-environment than an in-person one. Whether you’re a business owner or manager, an employee, or a job seeker, the way you handle your virtual professional relationships helps determine your success in business.
How to Build a Strong Virtual Network
While the Covid-19 pandemic has brought about new obstacles and challenges, the new work-from-home business landscape also offers unique opportunities for those who seek them out. For example, the virtual environment allows us to engage through online platforms, apps, and software. It encourages us to be proactive in our work relationships and reach out deliberately to collaborate with coworkers. It challenges us to create new channels of communication and connect with a larger audience that isn’t necessarily in close physical proximity.
All of this requires us to step out of our comfort zones. But when we do, we’re able to connect with individuals and groups we may never have engaged with if it weren’t for the need to adapt.
Here are a few ways you can build your network remotely and create genuine, lasting professional relationships:
Don’t limit yourself by geography.
The virtual environment allows you to connect with and work with people from across the country and around the globe. Don’t limit yourself to people in your city, state, or region; instead, find like-minded people and mutually beneficial relationships wherever they may be, and reach out. You’ll likely find you learn new things and discover new opportunities simply by removing the imaginary boundaries of physical space.
Rely on your existing relationships to create new ones.
Whether you’re an established and respected figure in your industry or you’re just starting out as a professional, you have existing relationships. Use them. Rely on current relationships for introductions and new opportunities. It’s important to also make sure you reciprocate. Introduce coworkers and friends in order to create new networks that lead to new opportunities for all involved.
Expand your online and social-media presence.
If you’ve never used social media for professional networking purposes, now’s the time to start. Whether you create a new Twitter account to connect with people in your industry, start a blog on LinkedIn, or create a brand new professional website, your online presence is your new handshake and business card.
Remember the importance of face-to-face interactions, even virtual ones.
In the days before Covid-19, managers would often take their employees out for coffee once a month to discuss their career development, and whole departments might get together for team-building exercises twice a year. Although these traditions have changed, they shouldn’t be thrown out altogether. One could even argue that things like career development, mentoring, and team building are more important now than they were before.
While phone calls and text-based platforms are great resources, take advantage of video-conferencing software and prioritize face-to-face meetings. Turn on your webcam during larger meetings, when possible. Seeing a person rather than simply reading or hearing their words personalizes an interaction and makes us feel connected.
How to Maintain Your Network Remotely
Casting a wide net and building a strong virtual network is only half the battle. The professional connections you make need to be nurtured on an ongoing basis if you want to maintain them and keep your network strong for the long haul. The goal is to ensure the people in your virtual network not only remember you, but reach out to you when new opportunities arise.
It’s a good idea to contact former employers, mentors, coworkers, and/or clients on a semi-regular basis, even if it’s just to check-in. Staying in touch with people in your network takes a bit of work and practice, but it’s well worth it when you need a reference or advice.
Here are a few tips for maintaining a robust virtual network in the long run:
- Don’t reach out only when you need a favor or reference; take the time to wish your connections a happy work anniversary or just check in once in a while.
- Take advantage of platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook to maintain connections.
- Don’t take it personally if you don’t get a response from an old coworker, employer, or mentor; they may simply have forgotten to reply.
- Personalize messages; don’t send out impersonal mass emails or solicitations.
- Be genuine and reciprocate favors and introductions.
Take the Initiative & Build Your Professional Network Remotely
Creating, developing, and maintaining a virtual professional network may seem complex, but it’s often simply a matter of stepping outside of your comfort zone and reaching out to old or new connections. The new business landscape poses unique challenges for us all. But it also means there are new opportunities on the horizon. How you adapt to the new virtual environment determines your success in it.
At Rush Recruiting & HR, we’re confronting these challenges head-on. We offer recruiting, hiring, and HR services to employers and resume development, interview preparation, and career consulting to job seekers. Since we work with people on both sides of the coin, we can offer unique insight into the expectations and strategies that exist across the spectrum of the business world.
We’re here to help you build and maintain a strong online presence and virtual professional network. Get in touch online or call us at (503) 481-1285 to discuss your personal networking, career, or business goals.