Humans, by nature, are social beings and need daily interaction with others.
In the world of work, businesses and jobseekers alike rely on networking to make new connections and maintain existing ones.
Due to Australia’s social distancing and lockdown laws – a reality now for many countries to help flatten the COVID-19 curve – the opportunity to meet face-to-face is not an option for the time being.
But despite the significant change in the way we work, many businesses across most sectors and industries continue to operate, just now with either strict social distancing measures in place or via working from home (WFH).
With many of us in the same WFH boat, we are all trying to connect and communicate via other means. And those means have always been available to us: phone call, email, messaging on social platforms and video calls.
We haven’t been relegated to the dark ages, we’ve just been forced to shift our usual processes and practices – many of which we haven’t had to think about until we went into lockdown.
But it’s understandable there will be some anxiety and nervousness around these changes, particularly if you’re not familiar with a certain platform or have never used a specific program for video calls before.
In the current climate, it’s crucial to consider etiquette for phone calls, email, messaging and video calls.
Touching base and “checking in”
Be sincere when you reach out to both new and existing contacts. This is an extremely sensitive time where people may have been directly impacted by COVID-19 (themselves, their parents or family may have tested positive for the virus) and/or experiencing other effects of the current climate, such as redundancy or extreme business hardship.
So be genuine in your communication – whether on the phone or on email:
It’s a really challenging time at the moment.
I wanted to check in and hope you’re keeping safe. How are you and the family doing?
Disregarding or not even mentioning the current climate comes off as cold and will have your contact waiting for you to just ask what it is you want from them. Not a great impression.
You’re also technically both in isolation – an unprecedented social experience. It’s fascinating to hear how people are coping and all the lessons we’re learning while staying inside. Allowing them to express what they’re going through will also give you a chance to connect on a human level, which in turn results in stronger relationships.
Honesty will also be appreciated. Use your judgement as to how open you want to be about your own situation and the reality that we’re all trying to continue work and therefore, need their help.
Keep messaging professional
Facebook Messenger and similar apps gives us another way to reach out to contacts if we don’t have their phone number, email address or LinkedIn details. We sometimes tend to use these channels for more casual interaction, particularly with family and friends. But for networking purposes, remember to keep the exchange professional. Once you get in touch, your contact’s response will be an indication of whether you can change your tone to a more casual conversation.
As advised above, be sincere in how you communicate.
Book in video calls
Video calling on the fly is generally seen as inappropriate because of the visual factor (unless you explicitly know your contact prefers it).
Many of us will still be adjusting to video calls so it’s best practice to ensure the person you’re calling is aware it’s a video call in the first place.
It’s best to lock in a day and time for video calls or video conferencing as the format lends to more of a formal meeting, is one that will go for a substantial amount of time and also takes appearance into account.
When you first reach out to the people in your network, outline what it is you’d like to discuss and if they’d be open to a video call. As many of us are currently working from home in lockdown, video calls are a welcome break from emails and phone calls, as it provides another level of connection and interaction for us.
Update your LinkedIn profile and join groups
As you network from home, hitting the Connect button on LinkedIn becomes ever so crucial to making a lasting connection with your latest contact – it acts as our virtual opening “Hello, I’m…” or closing “Thanks, it was really nice to meet you and I’ll be in touch” handshake, if you will.
So if your LinkedIn profile shows your old position from years ago, it won’t make sense to the person you’ve connected with if you’ve mentioned your current place of work. And even if you think your profile is up to date, give it a thorough scan – I’m sure you’ll find some areas to change or add information to.
Still on LinkedIn, join specific groups by profession, industry or sector, location and even personal interest groups.
Post a call out
Utilise your LinkedIn network (or other social platforms) and write a post for professionals you’re trying to connect with. If you’re clear in your intentions and express a sense of urgency (you might be under time constraints), your existing connections will suggest people in their network by tagging them. They might even share your post and, in turn, cast a wider net. After all, building networks is one of the key objectives of many online platforms so test it out and see where it can get you.
Attend online events
Social distancing has meant the events industry has had to go virtual. Many businesses that have hosted events in their offices and boardrooms have now turned to webinar events to be able to keep rolling out their 2020 agenda. Everything from economic updates, investing during COVID-19, WFH wellness and mindsets, business strategy and decision-making during a pandemic to a full-day virtual conference on talent transformation.
Networking can occur during the Q&A portion of the webinar, particularly if your question (or someone else’s) strikes a chord. There’s no harm in dropping in your email or asking for theirs so that you can continue your discussion in private. Just be sure to read the (online) room before doing so.
Some businesses will supply the attendee list if networking is part of the agenda. Take advantage of this by mentioning the online event when you introduce yourself.
Find opportunities where you can add value
Don’t forget that networking is not about being one-sided in your efforts to reach out – consider the flip side of the coin by giving back value in some form, which in turn, will have contacts coming to you.
Are you a subject matter expert, great at management or well-regarded in another skillset? You might want to offer your knowledge in the form of a monthly newsletter. Can you facilitate a free online webinar or training session? Does creating a closed group for your niche interest appeal to you? It could build a community that leads to stronger connections – both professional and personal.
This past week, I’ve even seen D&I groups host events on Zoom (like bingo) as a fun way to connect and network. The flood of comments from attendees and those who missed out demonstrate how successful these opportunities are.
Remember, our means to network hasn’t be compromised but instead requires us to proactively find smart ways to adapt to our new normal.
You can still be effective by understanding that networking during the COVID-19 pandemic requires a greater sensitive and genuine approach in order to gain meaningful business relationships that will endure this challenging time.
Looking for a role? Explore our current job opportunities in Australia here.
This article was originally published on LinkedIn.
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