Building Your Network in a Remote Landscape

It’s no secret that networking is crucial to modern professional life. As this CNBC article reports, up to 70-80% of job openings are filled through someone’s network, not a public posting. As the saying goes, it matters more who you know than what you know. Unfortunately, the pandemic has sent many professionals scrambling into the job market. From new grads to seasoned managers, lots of people are looking for new opportunities these days, as this article highlights. 

This article notes that the landscape of remote work has made networking quite a bit more challenging than usual. There’s no need to panic, though. There are plenty of things you can do to build and strengthen your network, even in these times.

Tell Me Why: There’s Nothing Like a Network

As one Forbes article points out, an obvious benefit of having a network is getting access to new opportunities. Whether those are opportunities for new employment, further education, or even leadership, those connections can really help you advance your career. However, that’s not all a network is good for!

According to this article, networking gives you the chance to establish expertise in your industry. On the flip side, as this article notes, you can get connected to others’ expertise as well. Your network can help you build new business connections. You may land a new client or find a new mentor. Either way, the value of a network holds, even if you’re not job hunting right now.

Finally, in the COVID context, it’s important to remember that a professional network can buffer your social connectivity. As this HBR article points out, it’s especially important to work on your networking skills in these times. Plus, when you’re working alone at home, you might feel fresh out of new ideas. That’s where a diverse network can come in really handy. Reaching out to connections for new perspectives on an issue can help you think more creatively about your work, even when you’re not collaborating in the office.

Getting Started

Okay, so let’s say I’ve convinced you. How do you go about networking in the remote work world? This article has some great ideas. To get started, you’ll want to look for online groups or forums on topics relevant to your professional life. A quick online search should help connect you to some existing opportunities. This article makes a plug for LinkedIn groups, which can be a great way to merge social media with networking.

Of course, if you’re not finding an existing network you’d like to join, you can always create one! You can start with one event and invite people you already know. Hopefully, the next time you announce an event, those connections will bring their connections. Already, your networking opportunities are growing. This article has a great reminder that there are multiple ways to plan this type of get-together. Depending on your preference, you could opt to meet over video conference or perhaps even outdoors! The great thing here is that you get to make those calls. And people will thank you for taking the initiative to start a new group or network. By the way, just what do you do when you do get a thank you message later?

Navigating Your Network

The etiquette of maintaining your network isn’t hard to master. The bottom line is about respect and authentic connection. Of course, it may be hard to know exactly what that looks like in today’s remote circumstances. That’s why I’ve curated some best practices here from multiple sources.

This article starts with a simple reminder to follow the etiquette of virtual meetings. That’s a good first step towards showing respect to your workplace connections. In addition, try to respond to messages in a timely fashion, and be mindful of others’ time in meetings. If you’re working with people in other time zones, check and double check meeting times in advance. When it’s time to get started, be punctual! And follow these best practices for virtual communication once you’re in the meeting or conversation.

This collection of ideas from a variety of professionals has some more ideas to connect with people outside your everyday network. Be open minded to a range of online platforms. Though LinkedIn may come to mind first, know that professional connections might be found in Facebook groups or Twitter chats! On that note, don’t forget that professionals are people too. Take time in meetings and conversations to chat about who you are, not just what you do. When you can remember something important about a connection’s family or hobby, that shows you care much more genuinely than an agenda-driven meeting. That being said, it’s not bad to plan ahead. When you’re ending a conversation, try to find another date when you can sync up with this person. That way, you’re more likely to stay in touch and deepen the connection.

Considering Special Circumstances

With all that said, it’s important to consider that we’re not all exactly in the same boat. As I wrote about in my series of blogs about women in the workplace, some professionals face unique challenges because of who they are. This HBR article is geared towards professionals of color who may find networking uniquely challenging. People of color may be perceived as less valuable connections or assumed to have lower expertise in networking spaces, making networking activities feel less useful for these professionals. The article authors cite research that in fact, professionals of color don’t tend to prioritize their network.

There’s no reason to lose out on all the benefits of a network, though. That same research found that several settings can make people of color feel more comfortable networking. For instance, professional conferences are still going on in the remote work world. They may even be more accessible than ever! There’s no commute to get there, and the cost of attendance is likely low or nonexistent. Community volunteering is also still accessible. Consider joining a network of mentors like LB Connect, a site for diverse professionals and new grads to rub elbows with one another. Lasly, the research shows that people of color may feel more comfortable using social media to network. Like I mentioned above, think outside the box! Take advantage of LinkedIn, of course, but don’t forget the opportunities in Instagram or Snapchat either.

Another unique circumstance is that of this past year’s new hires, who have never met their teams in person. Luckily, this article has some great strategies for that crowd to jumpstart their networks. One idea is to seek out mentorship, whether in the company or elsewhere. If you’re a new grad, find out if your university has an alumni network that could support you. In addition, take opportunities to stand out at work. This previous blog has tips for building confidence to speak up in virtual meetings. And this blog has some good information about the impostor phenomenon, so you don’t let it hold you back. Whether you offer your tech-savvy skills to a more senior employee or take on a collaborative project with another department, know that these bold moves will help you make new connections in the workplace.

Fostering Networks Through Leadership

I’d be remiss if I didn’t end with some advice for workplace leaders. Team leaders and managers can do a lot to support employees’ networking opportunities. This article lists ideas like creating an online forum for employees to share resources. Alternatively, sponsor opportunities for employees to attend panels, conferences, and webinars. If you can, share best practices with your employees to boost their online presence. That might mean sharing a standardized LinkedIn message template or reminding employees to share company posts with their own network. Whatever approach you choose, remember that you can make a difference for your employees, especially those who may easily become invisible on the margins. This article reminds workplace leaders to be especially mindful of including all team members in the remote world.

Whether you’re a new grad looking for work, a seasoned professional looking to grow your network, or a workplace leader concerned for your employees, I hope you’ve found some useful advice in this piece. So go ahead, get networking! And by the way, feel free to connect with me. I’m always excited for a new connection.