If you’re used to getting a lot of face time with colleagues and potential customers, COVID-19 and the quarantines can make you feel like your career development has been frozen in its tracks. It can be hard to adjust to the current reality, not to mention the uncertainty of what things will be like in the future. However, the changes in our work and personal lives do not have to mean the end of networking and making new connections. What it does require is a change in how you relate. Consider the strategies below to help you keep up your contacts, continue to learn, and continue to nurture your professional development.
Make the Most of Virtual Conferences
This year, many conferences have gone completely virtual. On the one hand, this can mean a challenge, since you will not have the same easy access to fellow attendees that you would normally have. But, since you are able to attend from your living room, you are likely able to attend more events than you normally would.
Usually, you can get ahold of lists of speakers and panel participants before the event. Take a bit of time to email those who participate to ask them questions or to offer feedback. This can often be a good way to make new connections and enhance your knowledge even when you can’t meet new people in person.
When looking at upcoming virtual conferences, also think about ways that you can contribute to the event. Maybe you, a colleague, or a client are in a position to share what you know through a presentation or a panel. You can also consider whether you can create a prerecorded presentation or a worksheet that could be helpful for attendees. By thinking about how you can be of use, you can make the event more valuable and show off your skills and commitment.
Thoroughly Update Your LinkedIn
If you’re like many people, you created a profile, added a few people, wrote a few recommendations, and haven’t looked at your profile much since. However, this platform can be a goldmine when you leverage your profile and connections right. Start by setting aside time to optimize your profile. Social marketing expert Melonie Dodaro created a LinkedIn checklist that can help you make the most of every section, from a custom URL to the best way to organize your skills to make you more visible in search.
Once you have gotten your profile up to snuff, start brushing up your contacts there. Make a list of people you have worked alongside, professionals you have hired for services, and others whose work you are intimately familiar with. Then, start writing a recommendation or two a day. This isn’t something you do with the expectation that they will reciprocate; rather, you are being of service to those in your community who have been helpful to you.
Join Slack or Discord Channels
Missing those valuable water cooler and lunch break conversations? Virtual hangouts are filling in some of the gaps for many people. Slack, Discord, and other platforms have user-created chat rooms where professionals can hang out with colleagues who they currently know and also meet new ones. There are also many groups who are hosting Zoom or Google Hangout happy hours to replace some of the camaraderie that they used to find at the local pub after office hours.
Some folks choose to visit only on specific days or during specific events. Others keep their servers of choice open in a tab so that they can drop in throughout the day to see what is going on. Don’t worry too much about keeping the conversation going or introducing big topics for discussion. By treating this as a hangout space, you can keep your social contacts up and continue to interact even when you are not able to do it face to face.
Create a Facebook Group
If you are having a hard time finding just the right group for networking opportunities, your best bet may be to make one yourself. Creating and moderating either a professional or social group can help you keep your networking skills fresh while providing an environment where others can also help one another.
Before launching a group, brainstorm about elements that include the purpose of your group, what sorts of things you’ll discuss, and who you would like to see as a participant. Do you want to create something that applies specifically to your industry? Or would you rather make a group where you and others can support one another with ideas, inspirations, and life hacks you’ve encountered in your personal life? An example of the latter might be a group specifically for parents who are working from home with children in tow or a group dedicated to work from home lunch ideas.
Decide whether you prefer a secret group that is invitation-only, a private one that anyone can find but that only members can see, or a public group where all content is visible for everyone, whether they are a member or not. Different groups will have different comfort levels and requirements. For instance, one that is geared toward building professional skills might be a good fit for a public group while one that deals with personal matters should be hidden or private.
By providing a space for people to meet, you identify yourself as a leader and a facilitator. Over time, this reputation can have a positive impact on the opportunities that are sent your way.
Send a Letter
In the age of social distancing, the handwritten letter is making a comeback. A number of individuals have written about how writing and receiving letters have helped them feel more connected and in touch even when we all have to be apart.
While most people’s stories have been purely about social connection, writing cards and letters can also provide a big professional boost. Happiness researcher Eric Barker has repeatedly extolled the virtues of thank you notes. These short missives don’t just make the recipient feel good. They also remind you of all the people who have had a positive impact on your life.
Even in good times, it’s a good habit to regularly send out handwritten notes to the people who have had a positive effect on you. These letters can be sent far and wide. Pen a quick note to a customer who is always a joy to deal with. Send one to a mentor who taught you a skill you put to use again the other day. Write one to the podcaster whose insights keep you thinking and engaged during your workout.
Because physical mail is tangible, it distinguishes it from the constant deluge of digital information that we get, and it makes an impression. When we receive an attractive note card with a pleasing message inside, it also triggers what is known as the reciprocity response. We are being shown appreciation, and we want to do the same in return.
Call Someone on Phone
During the pandemic, it’s also a good idea to make periodic “just checking on you” calls to the people who you would normally engage with. Making a couple of these calls a couple of times a week can keep you in contact with the people who you value and help strengthen relationships even while you are apart. They don’t have to be long. Just a few minutes on the phone can help reinforce relationships and let people in your network know you are thinking of them.
When you make calls, be sure to ask questions and actively listen to the responses. People like the opportunity to be heard, and you identify yourself as the right sort of person for that when you give them a listening ear.
The disruption caused by the pandemic and the move toward remote work doesn’t have to mean the end of your networking prowess. It’s better to think in terms of learning new methods to keep in contact and make new connections. Many of the networking skills you pick up now will continue to be relevant and useful even if things go back to how they were before. By developing new ways to network and hone your connections, you become more versatile. The greater your range of networking skills, the greater your ability to make the connections you need to continue to build your success.