Professional Networking in a Post-COVID-19 World
By Brian Sullivan
Anyone else feeling a little Zoom fatigued these days? Don’t get us wrong, we really appreciate all of the video conferencing services for allowing us to see our friends, families, and colleagues, but it just isn’t the same as in-person connection. The COVID-19 pandemic has made many things we used to take for granted like face-to-face interaction quite challenging.
Whether it was for conferences, trade shows, professional development seminars, business development luncheons, or alumni happy hours… if it was for our personal career search, for the integrity and prestige of our industry, or for attracting new clients to our brand… in-person networking functions have been a huge part of business and the professional world. Conducting these pastimes has been a challenge in our planet’s current situation, to say the least. And, because the pandemic has long overstayed its welcome, many of us are itching to get back to the way things were.
Suffice to say, at some point, things will go back to “normal”. But that does that actually mean? What will the new normal look like when it comes to professional networking? And, while we continue to wait for the dust and COVID droplets to settle, what can we do in the meantime to maintain our networking efforts? The R&W Group Blog attempts to answer these questions today!
Networking While the World Slowly Reopens
Networking means different things to different people, and can even change its meaning for one person at different points in their lives. We are going to be looking at networking as two distinct, but equally important, aspects of business: 1) connecting with others as potential clients and/or strategic partners, and 2) connecting with others in service of your own goals and career path, be it for mentorship, tips on current openings, or industry insights.
When it comes to the first sort of networking, where it is more about expanding a broader net in a sales sense, the pandemic has made the face-to-face meetings virtually nonexistent. From the large conferences to simply grabbing coffee with a potential buyer, both have become tough terrains to navigate in terms of adhering to the social distancing restrictions, business policies, and not to mention each individual’s particular comfort level when it comes to being around others again. Reaching out by phone, email, and presenting by video seem to be the best current options for business development but, as things begin to reopen, we will see more coffee meetings and even big conferences in the coming months; they will just look slightly different than they did in 2019 and before.
The second type of networking, the type where you are looking for strategic connections to help advance your career and achieve your professional goals, there are actually many new options never before available that individuals can pursue – options currently seen as innovative whereas, before the pandemic, they may have been considered unorthodox, or even bizarre.
Our brains got stuck for a bit thinking about this: how do we leverage our network if we can’t meet in-person? The thing is, there is no expectation to schedule an in-person meeting, and people’s schedules may be more apt to accommodate a meeting over the phone or over video conference. After all, if they’re working remotely, their schedules are no longer constricted by commute times, client visits, or other commitments. This is a perfect time to take those COVID lemons and made some lemonade.
In a past post from the R&W Group Blog, we talked about networking during these trying times to help narrow a potential COVID-related employment gap. Reaching out to our old trusty network connections can help us identify new potential openings. We can schedule informational interviews with them. They might even be able to provide us with a referral or act as a reference on our behalf. If you are attempting any of these new and outside-the-box methods of networking, especially if you’re doing them virtually, be sure you are “camera ready”, both you as a person and the room or backdrop you’ve chosen for the meeting. Your old connections you likely only saw in the office or a banquet hall during a trade show are now seeing you in your home via webcam, so take care to curate that interaction.
Changes to In-Person Networking Functions
The networking, conferencing, and professional events space is a multi-billion-dollar industry that has been severely shackled for the last two years. Not to mention all the related industries that have been impacted like venues, promotional items, catering, and hospitality. Even the in-person career fairs we used to attend are still primarily online. While many of us are hungering for in-person interaction as a “nice to have”, these businesses and associations are aching to get back into their main revenue generating space again, and it can’t get here soon enough.
But what is this going to look like? We are already seeing signs of what the “new normal” might look like. For example, many event organizers are simultaneously coordinating large-scale onsite events for their attendees alongside a virtual platform in the event another massive surge in cases prevents people from coming. While government regulations and CDC guidelines often shape these behaviors, when it comes to corporate events, it’s just as often that companies have their own travel policies in place, and may restrict employees’ ability to attend nonessential in-person events weeks (or even months) after the governing authorities have softened on the formal restrictions.
We are also likely to see events in much larger spaces with fewer attendees. These smaller headcounts will partially be influenced by some potential attendees not feeling completely comfortable in these settings just yet. But, it will also likely be the result of the organizers and the venue operators adhering to social distancing guidelines to reestablish onsite events while limiting potential risk factors. This will probably mean that vacancies will fill quickly, but that could be offset with individuals and companies not quite ready to get back to the face-to-face atmosphere yet. Additionally, while ¾ of 2020 and (possibly) even more of 2021 were littered with cancelled and postponed conferences and trade shows, the remaining months of 2021 and much of 2022 will be jam-packed with events, more than we ever saw pre-COVID. Because of this, attendees will likely need to be more selective when it comes to picking the networking functions worth attending.
As for smaller networking events like alumni and community happy hours and luncheons, the kind that are less about creating potential client relationships and more about making strategic connections for your own goals and career mobility, we think much of this will vary from region to region. There are probably private rooms in the back of downtown chophouses in cities across the US right now that are hosting a few dozen people to meet and mingle, while companies in other metro areas might be hesitant to reintroduce that part of their business at this time. Services like LinkedIn, Meetup, and other virtual social networks will likely still host these types of events, and videotelephony will not be going anywhere, now that we’ve all seen the benefits and flexibility with services like these. Spend some time perusing the offerings of these services if your region has stricter lockdown regulations, or if your comfort level hasn’t quite reached the in-person event threshold just yet.
Changes in Business Mean Changes in Us Too
While in many ways, most of us have had to live a little differently for the last two years, maintaining a smaller, closer-knit circle than before any being pickier about events we attend, there are countless other ways that things have actually expanded more than ever before. Utilizing technology for networking where we solely relied on face-to-face interaction in the past provides us opportunities to establish connection to a wider and more diverse audience.
We encourage you to explore as many of these options as you can, and feel free to share with us which you found the most fruitful. Partnering with a trusted staffing agency can also be a great way to get help navigating this ever-changing landscape. If you’d be interested in seeing how R&W Group could be a resource for you, please contact us at email@example.com. Looking forward to hearing from you!