If there’s one thing young professionals have drilled into them, it’s the importance of networking. But just because it’s important doesn’t mean you’ll immediately take to it. For myself, it reminded me of my parents making me call a restaurant for take-out as a kid - it had to be done in order to get what we wanted, but I’d panic the whole time and try fumbling my way out of it.. Eventually, you realize you need to make peace with this social exchange and you find that it may look a little bit different than you imagine. It doesn’t have to involve standing in itchy business slacks, a nametag slapped on your chest as you introduce yourself to dozens of strangers. Oftentimes, it’s just engaging with your coworkers or attending work-related events. But in a world where in-person events are taboo and we’re all working from home, how do you keep networking? We all want to keep moving forward professionally and our lifestyles (chosen or COVID-imposed), shouldn’t inhibit us. And so, I offer you 16 ways of networking (remotely).
While more of a resource for in-house and partnerships, Slack is a great method of staying connected with your colleagues while encouraging both professional and personal communication. You can make a channel for anything: I subscribe to a few which show me best workplace practices, but I also subscribe to a channel where everyone posts new music they like. Even though I was hired on in a remote capacity, I feel closer to my coworkers than I did at previous in-person companies. Thanks Slack!
2. LinkedIn Groups
LinkedIn is a great platform for all things professional, but have you used their group feature? Search for your professional interests and connect with other like-minded individuals, on a platform where it’s quick and easy to streamline into it’s other features (messaging, job posting, endorsements, referrals). Not only is it great for learning about the most up-to-date trends for your industry, but you can also flex yourself as a thought-leader for your industry by posting articles, relevant links, and other resources that will make it easier for clients and colleagues to recognize you.
3. Social media groups
While slightly less intuitive, you can use social media platforms in the same way you’d use LinkedIn. There are still countless groups for sharing ideas and making new networking relationships, within a slightly more relaxed setting. Just make sure you’re profile is looking spick-and-span with no embarrassing college photos to endanger your new professional connections.
4. Professional courses or certifications/training opps
A great way to network in a space where you have equal footing is by taking a professional course or certification outside of work. Not only will it pad up your resume, you’ll meet other professionals with a similar interest. Also, these certification courses often offer professional opportunities or networking events with industry leaders at the time of completion.
5. Remote coworking spaces
When you’re working remotely for the standard reasons, a coworking space is a welcome boon to your social life and networking capabilities. When I’ve visited coworking spaces in the past, like WeWork, I’ve actually felt quite envious. Without fail, there’s always some sort of elaborate tap system featuring cold brew coffees, kombuchas, and beers. I’m not sure you can legally open a coworking space if it doesn’t feature a series of plants, wood accents, and tasteful neon lighting. Objectively, it’s going to be a more attractive place than your apartment, and it’s going to be full of other young professionals who are living a similar lifestyle to you. This is an opportunity to engage with people in a low-stakes setting, and the coworking spaces will often host events to encourage networking.
6. Virtual happy hours and socials
A very easy option is to set up a virtual event with your teammates. Nurturing your company culture is important and your company will likely want to market the event to your coworkers. Common formats for virtual socials are trivia nights, online game nights, or simply grabbing whatever's in the fridge and sitting on a video call as a group.
7. Turn on your camera
While this approach may feel like the bare minimum, it really does help build better connections. I know it can be tempting to keep your camera off and mutely sit through a meeting. I am a big proponent for the sloppy bun and gigantic sweater look, so I often would prefer to keep that to myself. However, getting to make eye contact with your colleagues makes you a ‘real’ person to them, rather than just a spectre presiding over the meeting. Take the opportunity to make an impression, no matter how slight.
Not all of us have a flourishing, verbose writing style. Many of us may default to the minimum in terms of communicating. When you work remote, written communications may be your primary medium. If that’s 80% of what people are getting from you, that might be their entire impression of you. Fill in the blanks, add more detail, illustrate your personality a bit more. If you’re sending one liners, you’re going to remain very mysterious, but maybe not that interesting. Over-communicate with your peers to make up for the lack of face-to-face opportunities.
9. Connect with your alumni networks (associations, schools)
If you went to any sort of school or participated in any associations, these are fantastic opportunities to network. Networking opportunities are regularly hosted years down the line and these types of organizations regularly tout networking as a key benefit of membership. Utilize these shared experiences to your benefit! You’re already guaranteed to have loads in common.
10. Meetup Online
Perhaps you’ve used the website Meetup to connect with other people in your area who like to hike, or participate in ammature photography. A huge percentage of Meetup groups are dedicated to professional pursuits. Taking just a cursory glance at networking meetups in my area, I see online (and in-person) events for coders, female entrepreneurs, and freelancers alike. And if there’s not a group, it’s easy to make one!
I think we can all agree that we should try to volunteer as much as we can. Naturally, some causes may be closer to our hearts than others, and if we’re lucky, they may even overlap with our professional goals. For example, maybe you’re a coder: why not volunteer with Girls Who Code? You’d meet budding young mentees and passionate individuals who are building these important experiences. There are countless non-profits out there looking for people of your talent to contribute, whatever that might be!
12. Pursue your hobbies
These may be professional hobbies, or ones that are entirely outside of your work sphere, like climbing or woodworking. If you can meet people that you connect with and share passions with, who’s to say where it can lead?
13. Seek out a mentor
Over the years, I’ve had many mentors, who have helped mold me into the person I am today. Some of them came to me naturally, people I respected in my own social life or workplace. Others, I actively sought out on LinkedIn, asking for informational interviews. It’s important to remember that people love talking about themselves. I have never once been denied an informational interview from someone who’s work I admired. Once you have a mentor, they often want to help you succeed, and that might mean connecting you to important figures in your industry.
14. Look to your friends
There was a period of time where I wasn’t making strategic moves to build up my career and I was prioritizing opportunities to do something fun or interesting. While this isn’t wrong, many of my friends worked with a dedicated focus to excel within their chosen industries. I am not embarrassed to say that I use this to my advantage. Many of my interviews have come from friends who are seated within a company that interests me. Personal referrals go a long way, and recognizing your friends as part of your network, rather than something separate, is a huge advantage.
15. Ask your mom
I am only slightly joking on this one. Moms know everyone and they will talk you up like you no one else. They will chase up connections for you like a bulldog; your future network doesn’t stand a chance. My mom networking for me looks like her hounding every person she knows and talking about me like I started my own company. Moms are the ultimate hype-[wo]men, and let’s remember: they know best.
16. Get your name out there
Many of these options rely on you approaching an existing group or network to forge connections. However, you can just as easily develop your own content and be the flame that draws the moths. If you demonstrate yourself as proactive, eventually relevant parties will group around your content and discuss it, or reach out to you directly to forge a connection.
I hope I’ve championed the idea that networking remotely doesn’t need to be intimidating, and you can approach it in any fashion that best suits you. Play with the different options to find the medium that you feel most confident in, and keep your eyes open to industry-specific opportunities. Just because you’re at home doesn’t mean you have to isolate yourself!
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