For many of us in business, networking has been the main way to make connections, build mutually beneficial relationships and make sales. In lots of industries, if not most, people do business with people. Having a way of getting to know people so that you are the person they choose to do business with is therefore pretty essential.
So, where does this new socially-distanced, coronavirus-enriched world leave us? What’s to become of business networking in a world where you can no longer make meaningful small talk over the canapes?
With Covid-19 impacting industries all over the world this year, face-to-face networking is unlikely to be reintroduced anytime soon.
How has Covid-19 impacted networking?
This year, the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic has comprehensively shaken up the way people interact with each other. Whether it’s grocery shopping or having a meeting with your boss, new safety measures have been put in place to adhere to government guidelines and protect individuals.
Casual networking by the water cooler has been distinctly watered down. There are many ways that Covid-19 could change office design that will affect old working routines, from less open-plan spaces to one-way systems. Office meetings are being held virtually and the use of protective office screens has become increasingly popular and convenient.
With requirements for social distancing and reduced human interactions, people have moved from the traditional methods of conducting meetings, seminars, and business events. These seminars and business events are now being held virtually through online meeting platforms. Google Meet, Zoom, and Skype, are now familiar terms used in the business world as these online platforms are increasingly being adopted and used to conduct meetings and events. As face-to-face networking events are unlikely right now, virtual methods are helping individuals to easily carry on networking with others.
The technology has moved on since the clunky days of early online meetings and most people are pleasantly surprised by just how easy and engaging the new platforms can be.
Adapting to new technology
If companies have not embraced video technology before, then this year has proven that it is a valuable asset to have.
As many workers have been working remotely from home, applications like Zoom have been essential to office communications. There are many great reasons why your company needs to embrace video conferencing in 2020, as it is an efficient tool to use and it helps to keep dispersed teams well-connected. According to some research, many executives believe that video conferencing improves the quality of communication and also improves the degree of understanding too.
As physical industry events have not been able to take place this year either, many organisers have been introducing new digital event formats so their audience does not miss out. Events that have virtual visitor discussions, break-our rooms and meetup options can enable individuals to network together, from the comfort of their own home.
Why is networking so important today?
If you are trying to become established in your field of expertise, learn from others, and gain valuable contacts, then networking can speed things up and smooth your passage. Research shows that people and businesses that network more are more successful.
Strong business relationships that are formed through networking are formed by parties not only gaining but also giving. Having strong business relationships is often one of the key components of any organisation that wants to be successful, particularly if they are a small company or they are just starting out.
Having said that, networking in the wrong way can be worse than not bothering. Whether you are networking in-person or online, the principles of the good, the bad, and the ugly of business networking remain the same. ‘Good’ includes finding people you genuinely like, finding an event that fits your values and your work schedule, and gaining precious leads. The ‘ugly’ side of networking includes being under pressure to deliver a lead and interacting with people that have over-rehearsed pitches. Successful networking is always about long-term, mutually beneficial relationships. As soon as it feels like a hard sell, someone has missed the point. At best, business networking will help you to make new contacts, grow your business, and develop in your industry.
Gaining new virtual connections
The future of business networking is going to be defined by how fast people will be able to keep up and embrace advancements in technology. Networking platforms such as LinkedIn look set for a surge in users, especially those seeking jobs and career advancements. Some of the most useful LinkedIn networking tips include utilising the ‘People You May Know’ feature to help discover new contacts.
Social media platforms are already a great way of maintaining light-touch contact with a wide network. With the chances of running into contacts at business events vastly reduced, more of us are going to have to become comfortable and savvy with the world of social media.
It’s clear that the future of physical events will be impacted for some time. Even when events might be able to take place again, attendee numbers will most likely be significantly reduced to accommodate social distancing measures.
A lot of business people are finding that the impact on their business is not as great as they thought it would be. Meeting online can be just as effective as taking a flight halfway across the world to attend a conference. Expect an ongoing reduction in jet-setting. It’s a bonus for every working parent as well as the environment.
The world is changing and business networking is evolving. Gradually when it’s safe, in-person events will return. Added to these networking innovations, it’s set to be better than ever.