The best ways to professionally network while socially distancing during coronavirus


  • Technology
  • Monday, 11 May 2020

A record 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, the US Department of Labor reported. This makes it even more important to stay connected as business conversations resume on Slack, Skype and Zoom from our dining room tables. — Dreamstime/TNS

PHILADELPHIA: Business is on pause. Everyone is stuck in the house. Do you still need to network?

Absolutely, says business experts.

"You need to be a part of that conversation and dialogue that's happening right now," said NJ Falk, a Los Angeles-based entrepreneur, business adviser and regular contributor to Forbes Women.

"You don't want to be left behind," Falk said.

The economy is on shaky ground, so many of us don't know how what our job future looks like. And because social distancing has resulted in an unprecedented work stoppage, many people have, unfortunately, lost gigs already. A record 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, the US Department of Labor reported Thursday.

This makes it even more important to stay connected as business conversations resume on Slack, Skype and Zoom from our dining room tables.

"This time more than ever you should be building and rebuilding your network," said Falk who added that staying in the mix is key to well-being and productivity. And Falk said, you want to be sure that "as the weeks go on you don't become more and more isolated. Then it will become increasingly harder to reach out."

Perhaps your networking skills are rusty and you're not sure how to start putting yourself out there in these unsure times. Here are some tips we're sure will keep you relevant, connected and ready to go once the shutdown lifts.

When you are just socialising there is no end result, explained Richelle Payne, a Philadelphia-based brand and crisis strategist. "Socialising is all about wearing that great outfit, taking a couple of selfies. It just feels good. With networking there is an intention." As in you are exchanging ideas, making introductions, or just reaching out to the other party know you are available for work. "You are certainly asking for something – or planting the seed – but you are also willing to give something back in return," Payne said.

There is a difference between keeping yourself relevant and asking people to spend money. "Now is not the time to be salesy, salesy, salesy,” said Jennifer Lynn Robinson, founder and CEO of Philadelphia-based Purposeful Networking. "Think about the positions people are in right now.” For example, Robinson said, if you are in fashion, you don't want to post a video pushing your network to buy a US$450 (RM1,950) dress for spring. “You want to ask yourself: 'Is this what people want to see right now?' You have to really read your audience.”

If someone asks you for an introduction or to share a bit of knowledge with them during this time, gladly do it, Robinson says, borrowing from Wharton Business School professor Adam Grant's best-selling book, Give And Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success. "I call it networking karma," Robinson said. "It's a small investment of your time that will pay big dividends in the end," she said.

Update your LinkedIn profile. (Or create one.) Freshen up your website. (Or create one.) Write a timely blog post. Pitch the media. Upload new video content on your Instagram. Or do a Facebook Live. Now that your online rapport is your key way of connecting with people, make sure it's on point, advises Zack James, director of business development at MyNEWPHilly.

“We spend a lot of time thinking about doing these things," James said. "Now we actually have time to do it." Also, James said: Answer all of those messages in your LinkedIn inbox. It's a good way to reach out to the people who you may be top of mind for, but never got back to because of the unrelenting day-to-day.

It's time you start putting your best foot forward. Yes, even during those dreaded 8am Zoom meetings and especially at that evening happy hour. "Remember your brand is on display, you're still being evaluated," Payne said. "Utilize the zoom filters. Fluff your hair. Groom your beard.” And just don't focus on your physical appearance, James reminded us, your surroundings are important too. De-clutter the desk. Surround yourself by art, photographs, or keepsakes that mean something to you. "These can be conversation starters," James said.

Looking for like-minded people to connect with and feeling at a loss? Start a group of your own. "If you are interested in something, someone else is," Falk says. "And now is a good time to test the waters, because you've got their interest for a while."

Robinson launched three new endeavours since the onset of social distancing. Each day she's highlighted a local business on her Facebook to encourage conversation and support. Each day on her business Facebook page, she's giving marketing tips. And Robinson started social survival guide on Facebook that shares information about activities to do at home. "People are craving community and connection," Robinson said. "It's important to be both a resource and interact with people."

Reach out to someone every day, said James, who likes to get his networking done in the morning because it gives people time to get back to you. How you connect depends on the relationship, James said. If you are friendly, text: It's less intrusive. "People are really just trying to figure out how they are going to survive," James said. It's also appropriate to send messages via social media. If it's a more formal relationship – meaning you're reaching out to someone cold, who's not an artist – email is better. You don't want to assume a familiarity that isn't there.

If you try to contact someone on Tuesday, don't be terribly offended if they don't get back to you until Friday. If you have to end a networking interaction because your boss is calling you with a pressing issue or your child needs help with his math homework, don't be afraid to end the call. "This is a new experience for everyone and people want – need – to see your humanity," Payne said.

In other words, to quote the great Maya Angelou, "People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." – The Philadelphia Inquirer/Tribune News Service

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