Virtual Networking Tips for Remote Workers
According to a survey by professional services firm PwC published in June 2020, 55% of employers anticipated that workers would want to continue working remotely at least one day a week long after the pandemic has ceased being an immediate concern.
When you are working from home, effective networking becomes more important than ever. Not only can it open new opportunities and help you to progress in your career, but it also prevents the feelings of isolation that are often an issue for homeworkers.
A survey by social media experts Buffer revealed that loneliness was the main drawback of working remotely for 21% of respondents. Virtual networking reduces this by building community and connections.
While networking can happen organically in a physical office, for example during meetings or in the break room, remote workers need to make more of an effort to forge and maintain such professional relationships.
But the good news is that, as the trend for remote working has grown, so too have the virtual networking opportunities.
Whatever your field of work, interests or goals, there are now plenty of ways to meet new people remotely. This article will share some top tips for networking online.
When it comes to networking, there are many different places you can meet and communicate with people, but these can broadly be split into three different channels:
These would include face-to-face networking events as well as in-person meetings with colleagues, clients or contacts, conferences, team-building events and other professional gatherings.
Traditionally, this would have been the primary channel for networking. However, there are many more opportunities popping up online.
This includes connections that you make through the internet, for example via social media such as LinkedIn and other virtual communities such as forums, blogs and membership sites.
This refers to relationships that you form in the course of your work.
It would include your co-workers and superiors within your company, but also people who you deal with professionally, such as clients, contractors, vendors and collaborators.
While previously this kind of relationship may have developed in person, increasingly it is happening via the internet as online networking becomes the new normal.
With the onset of the COVID-19 lockdown, networking events began to move online and there are now a host of digital conferences, seminars, webinars and other gatherings to choose from.
These range from smaller informal group Zoom calls, perhaps aimed at industry professionals in a particular geographical area, to significantly larger events attracting thousands of attendees.
The events may bring together thought leaders and experts in their fields, along with people simply interested in learning more or making new connections.
Like much of virtual networking, one of the main advantages of digital events is that you can join from anywhere in the world, which opens a wealth of national and international networking opportunities.
Eventbrite, Twitter and LinkedIn are good places to start searching for relevant online networking events. And if there is not one that suits your needs, you could even set one up yourself.
Playing an active role in relevant online communities is a great way to expand your network, seek out advice and potentially find new opportunities.
There is almost certainly going to be a Facebook or subReddit focused on your profession.
Facebook rooms vary in size from a few hundred to several thousands of members, and Reddit overall has 330 million monthly users. There may also be a community on Twitter – these can be less centralized but can be found through related hashtags and popular accounts.
As well as chatting about work and sharing tips or resources, people often post job opportunities or requests for someone to help with a project.
You can ask for advice and respond to questions from others, publicly establishing yourself as an expert in your field and making connections with like-minded users that may prove useful further down the line.
Meetup is an online platform that helps people connect with others in their community who share similar interests or hobbies.
Alongside social and creative groups, there is also a category for groups aimed at furthering your career, whether by learning new business skills, sharing your talents or connecting with others in your industry.
Even if you simply use Meetup to pursue your hobby or find people who share your passions, it will allow you to chat with people who have similar interests. This will benefit you socially and one of your new friends could become a useful work contact too.
Unlike the online community forums mentioned above, Meetup aims to connect people in the physical world as well. Connecting with others online on this platform can mean the awkward introductory part is out of the way when meeting in person.
The platform has a range of groups focused on all manner of different categories, from professions, specialisms or locations to personal interests and even sororities and fraternities.
Find groups that are relevant to you and become an active member, taking time to share anything you think might be of interest to others in the group as well as responding to comments and requests for advice.
You may already be using Slack to communicate with your co-workers and share projects, but it is also a useful tool for remote workers to build their networks, find new projects and meet people online who may become clients or collaborators.
There are thousands of Slack communities and groups available to join, including plenty aimed specifically at remote workers.
All you need to do is think about the type of person it would be most valuable to connect with in terms of job, location or common interest and then find the groups that match.
The Slack channel search tool allows you to use hashtags and keywords to find such groups. You could also set up your own Slack group and invite relevant members of your current network.
If the group is active and useful, it is likely other Slack users will soon start joining too.
When it comes to networking, perhaps your most valuable asset is your unique set of skills, experience and knowledge. Offering to share that with others is a powerful way to forge relationships.
Wherever you can, look for opportunities to add value and help others. It could be as simple as responding to questions on social media or digitally introducing contacts who have mutual interests.
LinkedIn allows you to write and publish your own articles, so you could pull together some top tips on a topic you know well and share them with your connections.
HARO (Help A Reporter Out) enables you to connect with journalists looking for expert commentators for their stories.
You might also consider leading webinars or digital workshops with your professional skills, either through your own online channels or by contacting organizations that host these types of events and offering your services.
You could even start a podcast or set up a YouTube channel where you regularly share your knowledge. All of these will build your reputation so more people know who you are and what you do.
While group networking certainly has its place, sometimes it is more valuable to have an in-depth, one-on-one conversation with someone.
Perhaps there is an organization you are interested in working for, or you are looking to make a career change.
If you find someone who is already in the role you aspire to, consider contacting them directly to ask for an online informational interview.
An informational interview is when you seek career advice from someone with knowledge and experience in your area of interest. Not only is it a chance to gather valuable information, but it also gives you the time to form a more personal relationship.
Remember to follow up afterward to say thank you and reiterate how useful you found the meeting. You should also make sure to keep in touch over the following weeks and months, perhaps by emailing them an article that you think they will find interesting or letting them know how you are putting their advice into practice.
As well as pursuing new connections, you should spend time nurturing the network you already have.
When working in an office, you will naturally form a bond with coworkers as you fall into conversation around the water cooler or in the coffee room.
For remote workers, this is more of a challenge, so try to carve out some space away from specifically work-based communication to build those relationships.
You could instigate a regular virtual coffee morning or after-work Zoom drinks.
Social media is an amazing tool for virtual networking as it was designed to encourage online connections and put you in touch with people you might not normally meet in person.
You can use social media to connect with current and former colleagues, but also to follow and interact with potential new clients or employers, people you admire and thought leaders in your field.
Further, you can publicly establish yourself as an expert in your profession, sharing your achievements and experience with everyone who follows you.
If you are using social media to network, check that all your accounts and platforms set out your business skills or goals and reflect how you want to be seen professionally. You might consider having separate business and personal accounts if appropriate. Then participate regularly to make yourself visible.
On LinkedIn and Twitter, this could involve sharing work-related articles, drawing on your experience to comment on current events or responding to posts from people you follow.
If your work is more visual, you could share it on Instagram, creating a virtual portfolio. You can also join Instagram Lives, where companies and industry figures often hold Q&A sessions.
Asking the host questions, either during the broadcast or in a follow-up message, can be a good way to connect with people you look up to.
You could go live on Instagram yourself, talking to your followers about your work.
With the rise of remote working, coworking spaces have become increasingly popular as spaces that provide the sense of community and the networking opportunities that you might otherwise miss from working in an office.
Virtual coworking spaces offer many of these same benefits without even needing to leave your home.
Companies such as Sococo provide full digital office solutions, with avatars of every employee, a virtual floorplan, meeting rooms and even virtual phone booths where you can take a call.
If you are freelance, MyWorkHive offers spaces where remote workers around the world can meet online to work, share their daily goals and achievements, and join virtual coffee breaks.
Many remote workers have also established their own coworking sessions via Zoom or Slack, joining a group call or channel and then knuckling down to work with the option to jump into conversations or breakout rooms when needed.
As always, if you cannot find the ideal one for you, you can set one up.
Even if you are relatively confident networking in person, making the switch to connecting with people online can feel intimidating.
There is no doubt that virtual networking is more of a challenge and requires a more intentional approach than the organic relationships that can form face-to-face.
But the benefits for remote workers, both in terms of building a supportive community and opening professional opportunities, make it more than worth the effort.
With all networking, the key to success is being authentic and having a genuine interest in the people you connect with.
So, whatever method of networking you choose, take time to seek out like-minded individuals with whom you enjoy interacting. If you do this, virtual networking should soon become an enjoyable and constructive part of your working week.