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Networking through the screen - How to stay on people’s radar

Author: Heather White, CEO, Smarter Networking

Published: 06 Oct 2021

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For more years than I care to admit, I’ve been training and coaching a wide range of professionals, from senior executives to MBA graduates in the subtle art of networking – and of course, since March 2020, this has all been virtual! The most frequent question I’ve been asked is how to network remotely, implying that networking in the ‘new normal’ is somehow materially different to life pre-COVID 19.

Let’s put this into context. Networking, pre-COVID 19, was mostly face-to-face for those working in large corporations and in business development, and, for those working internationally and seeking career opportunities, it was based mostly on connecting remotely. From October 2021, we now have a hybrid way of developing key relationships.

There are obvious benefits to in-person networking over virtual, such as:

  • Spontaneous chats over coffee
  • Serendipitous meetings in corridors and at events
  • Informal chats pre- or post-meetings
  • Easier to read non-verbal signals

I don’t deny that informal face-to-face chats were really powerful – and they are coming back – but they are not the only route to effective networking. We can still develop connections, trust and deeper bonds virtually – it just takes some thought and careful planning.

What hasn’t changed is that all effective communicators, leaders and networkers will continue to be:

  • Useful to their connections both internally and externally
  • Sharing helpful, practical information to remain on people’s radar and therefore build our reputations and brand
  • Having fruitful conversations to build trust and deeper bonds

For the last seven months, I averaged four calls per day with my networks and building new connections. I took the coffee approach onto Zoom: some meetings were more formal as if I was visiting someone’s office, so pen-in-hand, others were more casual and I’d be coffee-cup-in-hand!

Discussions with one client said that some people are returning to the office part time, with the hope that relationships could be re-established. Their experience so far is that between low numbers returning and the necessary social distancing measures, serendipitously bumping into ‘that key person’ you’ve identified as influential or important for you is unlikely, so it’s still crucial to stay in touch remotely. For now, serendipity is still not part of office networking, but she hasn’t completely disappeared – because she will turn up in your conversations through the screen anyway!

So, let’s crack on with building relationships through the screen with the purpose of finding an approach that works for you.

There is a lovely saying that goes “if only I knew then what I know now!” and as we’ve had many months of communicating virtually, we have all worked out both the opportunities and the pitfalls of chatting through the screen.

Using my pragmatic approach, here is a simple plan of action that anyone can apply.

Step one: Every week, set up an informal chat with one person from the following categories:

Category  Purpose of the conversation  Content of the conversation 
Someone from a different division to your own 
  • Broaden your knowledge and ideas
  • Remain informed and up to date with the business direction
  • Share your key skills and broaden your networks Share useful ideas with your teams
  • Share your insights with your line manager
Your line manager
  • Naturally this should be every couple of weeks / monthly anyway
  • Keep them informed of key projects and your ambitions / wants and needs
  • Share useful ideas and insights with your team
A thought leader (internal or external)
  • Stay informed on current thinking on relevant topics / industry changes etc.
  • See how you can apply insights to your projects, support the team and share with your line manager
Peer groups
See step three  

Step two: Share a project

  • Whatever you're working on at the moment, if it’s appropriate, consider who you could share this with within your networks
  • Share your project on a platform such as LinkedIn (depending on confidentiality and appropriateness)
  • Share your project with a thought leader, someone you're following to get their input

Step three: Go external

  • It's a frequent oversight, even pre-COVID 19, that people focus too much internally and do not sufficiently build an external network. It’s important to understand what external network you need in order to support your career development. As a general rule of thumb your external networks would include your peer group within your industry, cross-industry peer groups and thought leaders on a topic that aligned to your personal brand.
  • The most recognised and widely used platform to find and develop relationships would be LinkedIn. Therefore, my strong recommendation is to once a day connect with someone from the proposed networks above, with these identified people feeding into your peer group (as in step one).

I’m always happy to answer any questions, so either email me directly at heather@smarter-networking.com or send me a LinkedIn request saying that you have a question to ask.

Something to consider in the meantime: