Networking: “the action or process of interacting with others to exchange information and develop professional or social contacts.”

Before the Pandemic, we were lucky to live in a professional world in which networking was a major focus. Early in our careers, we were coached and mentored, particularly in IT (Information Technology) organisations on the importance of building strong relationships, not only with our colleagues with whom we worked directly in the office but with those outside of our immediate circle. Those were the “golden days” of regular conferences, travelling to client sites for an initial meet and greet, pre-meets in coffee shops before big presentations, and a general sense of accomplishment and satisfaction when existing connections were strengthened, or new ones formed.

Skip forward to the start of 2023, and what feels like should be a new era of networking. Yet, COVID is still high on the agenda, but is now being overtaken by new concerns; the cost-of-living crisis and soaring costs for essentials, fuel, and travel, as well as strike actions in response to these ongoing challenges. All these factors still significantly impact both the ability and willingness to take elements of what we knew as networking in the past and move them onto the networking of the future. It is a challenge and perhaps a concern for not only working professionals on an individual basis, particularly around raising their visibility within their industry but also for businesses on how they can harness the power of networking to continue to build even stronger teams.

 

Why networking is important

Networking can have many benefits on both an individual and organisational level. It can help us to feel invested in ourselves, and our careers. It can even allow us to form friendships with individuals we may not have met outside of work. From a business perspective, it opens doors for new partnerships, allows us to forge strong teams with common goals, and share industry insights with like-minded organisations. The pandemic may have altered how we do these things, but some interesting statistics relate to in-person and online networking. For example, LinkedIn saw a 55% increase in conversations among connections in 2020 (Hootsuite, 2021), providing a popular online platform for like-minded individuals to connect or reconnect amid lockdowns. Contrary to this, Oxford Economics published a study which stated that 75% of customers either require or prefer in-person meetings, meaning that you could lose clients simply by not meeting them in person. These types of studies show that there is no one size fits all “way to network” and provide a further reason why our approach needs to be tailored more than ever before.

 

Things to consider

So how can we look to overcome these existing and new challenges and build both strengths in our teams, but also strengthen our external working relationships too? Here are some things to consider:

 

Look for opportunities for both virtual and in-person networking

We are still working out what the new normal needs to look like. Continue to harness the power of virtual networking. Online communication tools have been a lifeline for so many over the last 2 years, and we should continue to make use of them. A video call can still be as powerful as an in-person meeting, but don’t be afraid to invest in opportunities for people to meet face-to-face. The take-up may be low initially as people continue to adjust but knowing that it is possible may support and encourage people to find the want and need to network again.

Creating a continuously accessible space for teams to come together, e.g. in the form of recurring meetings, and by actively encouraging participation, and exploring needs and expectations, will strengthen bonds within the team.

 

Make networking work for you

Some individuals may thrive at conferences and large events, but others may feel intimidated by the prospect of going to this type of meet-up. If you want to strengthen your network and build new connections, find events that work for you. Slowly we are starting to see the rise of larger-scale conferences again, as well as a continued push for smaller meetups (virtual and physical). Choose what works for you and explore the options of both.

 

Think ahead

When networking events, especially conferences, are being arranged, it’s not uncommon for them to sell out quickly. Think ahead into the next year if there are any popular events you or your colleagues may want to attend and keep an eye on ticket sales. If you’ve missed the boat on a particular event, maybe also consider events outside of your preferred locations. This could open the door to new connections across different regions or even across the globe (and could allow you to visit an exciting new place or country!)

Thinking ahead helps with aspects such as business budgeting and travel planning. It might also make it easier for those with other regular commitments to attend. This tip applies to those wanting to arrange internal team events or those open to a wider audience. Giving people plenty of notice provides an opportunity for higher uptake.

 

Look for inspiration!

As we wrote in our previous blog, “Looking for a little inspiration? Here you go…” it can be beneficial to take time out of the workweek for self-development and reflection. Take a moment out of your day to sit back and think about what interests you, and where there are opportunities to grow these interests. Taking this time could be the motivation you need to sign up for that event that you’ve been considering for a while (before it sells out!) or to reach out to the connections you haven’t been in touch with recently. Go ahead and grab that coffee!

 

Show you care

Show understanding to your immediate co-workers and connections, respect boundaries, and take time to understand how people are feeling. Keep in mind that different people have diverse needs when it comes to networking and working relationships. The pandemic has affected people in different ways; those who once thrived on regular networking opportunities may now struggle, and others may be craving more social interaction after so long without it.

 

Nurture relationships and build trust

When working remotely or hybrid, much of our working time is spent in an environment that is not encouraging us to have spontaneous contact and less formal conversations with others. If we trust someone on a personal level, cooperation on a professional level is bound to benefit us. Building trust within a team is a long and difficult process, but it should not be ignored. Talking about non-professional topics does not have to be separately arranged – it can, for example, be an introduction to official meetings. Just ask a colleague how their day is going or how they are coping with the difficulties of working remotely.

These seemingly superfluous questions help to shorten the distance between people, and this translates into a friendly atmosphere in which employees begin to feel comfortable in each other’s company.

We hope this article gives you some food for thought regarding how you want to approach networking in 2023 and beyond. If you’re interested in building relationships with a company that cares, why not reach out to us?

 

Contributions to this post were made by Jacek Szwałek.