Networking in a virtual world

Networking in a virtual world

Anyone else getting a little bored of Zoom? 

Since March 2020, much of our lives, both professional and personal, have been played out on small screens. 

Laptops, tablets, Smart TVs and mobile phones have allowed our kitchens and living rooms to become nightclubs, pubs and cafes, as well as offices and meeting rooms. 

Getting dressed from the waist up has been the priority, and whether you’ve opted for a super imposed background, or accepted the general chaos of the real thing behind you, you’re probably well versed in the do’s and don’ts of virtual networking by now… 

…so, when will it end? 

Well, we haven’t got the answer you’re looking for right now, but we can at least share your pain and make some suggestions as to how you can make virtual networking work for you, as it rumbles on into 2021. 

We’re going to focus on the positives, not because we’re blind to the accidental toilet break with a camera switched on, or the living room detritus you thought you’d hidden remaining visible, but because now, more than ever, positivity is key. 

Firstly, don’t take yourself too seriously. You might have adapted well to the ‘new normal’ and see yourself as bit of a Zoom guru. That’s great, but remember that not everyone is experiencing the same ease of transition and some may be struggling with the uncomfortable crossover of the professional arena sneaking into their personal space. 

So, if someone’s kid interrupts a meeting, or if their background isn’t what it might be, or if their internet connection is a little dodgy, give them some breathing space and room for error.  

It’s OK. We are living and working through circumstances that are far from ideal.  

It might be you who has a little Zoom hiccup next time, so be patient and understanding. 

It’s important to remember that whilst you’re not having to travel as much to and from meetings, you have a little time either side that you need to make the most out of. Come to your virtual meetings prepared, and see the extra preparation time as a huge advantage of this way of working. When the meeting is over, take five minutes to reflect, make notes and plan your next steps. 

This time would usually be spent travelling, socialising or eating, so use it wisely. 

Speaking of all that time spent travelling, socialising or eating, another huge positive to virtual networking is the money you’ll save.  

And here’s a tip that you should at least give a try for a couple of weeks. 

Place a money box at the side of your computer screen or workspace, and every time you have a meeting on Zoom, try to deposit what you would’ve spent on the meeting into the box. 

Think about travel costs such as fuel or train fare, think about coffees and meals for clients. 

Stash it all away in the box and even after one meeting, you could find that virtual networking has saved you as much as £50.  

Think about it… 

£20 fuel, £parking, £25 for a bite to eat and a couple of coffees. It all adds up. If you don’t want to stash the cash, at the very least you should be making notes about the amount of money you’re likely to be saving. 

That’s for every meeting too, no matter how many you have. 

And that’s where we find our next positive… 

…with the number of meetings, you’re actually able to have. 

If you’re strict with yourself in limiting meeting times to only what is absolutely necessary, you will become less fatigued with the routine of logging on and tuning in. Be clear from the outset that productivity is important and that as much as you’d like to socialise and catch up, you’ve scheduled several other meetings for the same date. That way, you can get more from your Zoom session than you’d have ever got from a traditional day of meetings. 

Or… 

…don’t be strict with your expectations. You might feel that you want to use your Zoom sessions as an opportunity to catch up with the outside world, and that’s fine too. You might want to socialise and chat with clients, colleagues and partners. As long as they’re happy to use their Zoom sessions (other video call providers are available) for the same purposes, chat away! Grab a virtual coffee and a cake together if you want! 

The overarching idea here, is that you have the power to make virtual networking work for you, and not the other way around. By necessity, it has to fit around your life, however that looks at the minute. By design, it is convenient and malleable to do just that, so make sure you don’t become a slave to the screen. 

Oh, and don’t be afraid to use the mute button or the hide video button. Everyone needs these every now and then, trust us. 

As a final note on the advantages of virtual networking, which looks set to continue well into this new year, think about joining or visiting network groups, of which there are so many. We recommend BNI, and can point you in the direction of how to attend a virtual meeting as visitor.  

If you’re already a member of an organisation like this, branch out a little, explore the new opportunities that virtual networking is affording you. 

For the first time ever, you’ll be able to attend multiple meetings in different parts of the world, on the same day. You could be in Melbourne for breakfast, Mumbai for lunch and back in Manchester for tea. 

No, really, you could! 

Look, no one is claiming that virtual networking is ideal, far from it, but it’s what we’re contending with right now 

…so, until the return of the handshake in 2025 or whenever it comes, let’s make the most out of networking in a virtual world.