The pandemic has changed the way we network, opening doors to many more opportunities than we could have imagined.
It took years for us to perfect the navigation of a professional organization’s monthly business luncheon. First, there’s the dress code. Suit or dress, close-toed shoes, refined hair, and company logo on a clothing item. Business cards – check. Readiness to network with AEC industry colleagues – major check.
Then, there’s the commute to the high-end hotel banquet room. Check in, find your nametag, locate the nearest restroom and ensure your presentation. Jockey for the best seat in the ballroom. Introduce yourself while slyly calculating which water glass or coffee cup is yours. Is it OK to eat the dessert first? It’s just … sitting there. Clap softly as the emcee introduces themselves. Listen, eat, network, repeat.
But now, networking has experienced a 180. How do you attend a lunchtime Zoom event with your camera on? Can you wear sweatpants? Do you BYOL (bring your own lunch) and eat during breakout room networking? Creating connections with industry colleagues seemed so much less intimidating when you were sharing a meal with the person beside you.
Now, not only do we not get to jockey for who we sit next to, but we have to eat (or not eat) in front of everyone. Because, let’s be real, Zoom etiquette has revealed that attending one of these luncheons with your camera off isn’t acceptable.
So, what now? Our trials and tribulations have led us to a striking conclusion: Virtual networking has opened doors to many more opportunities than we could have imagined:
- Guest speakers are top tier, the kind of folks who may not have been able to fly across the country to attend an event in person before the pandemic.
- Networking is no longer about seeing how many business cards you can collect; it’s become more about genuine human interactions on a level playing field (AKA “the internet”).
- Link-sharing has become a purposeful way of communication and online networking groups are much more prevalent.
- And, hey, you can totally wear what you want from the waist down. Slippers? Sure.
Virtual communication means capitalizing on effective use of technology, so, if your host has provided you with the means and if you have a tech savvy mindset, you’re all good. There are a few things we’ve noticed will get you further in the long run:
- Be alert. Zoom fatigue is indeed a real thing, but there are many ways to persevere through the afternoon sleepies. Prep yourself with a cup of coffee or glass of water and a light snack in case you didn’t eat before your call.
- Be prepared. It’s not only the Girl Scouts’ and Boy Scouts’ motto, it’s also a great reminder to check up on your technology before joining a call. Ensure your internet is active, your camera/mic are working, and that you’re in a well-lit, quiet area. Don’t be afraid to use a company provided Zoom background or to use one of the many filters that Zoom provides in case there are disturbances behind you.
- Be present. Pay attention, take notes, and research on a side window, if needed. No one said having two windows open at the same time was rude, but be sure you’re still networking in the moment. If you’re presenting, silence your alerts so others don’t get distracted by your co-worker’s last-minute email request. Zoom also has a “hidden self-view” feature which allows you to focus on others in the session rather than yourself.
- Be invested. Think about how to connect with people online when the networking event is over. LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are all great ways to keep in touch with the connections you’ve made during a virtual session. You did, in fact, meet these people via the internet, why not make long-lasting connections there too?
The world is ever-changing, and we can’t make the argument that networking wasn’t headed in this direction before the pandemic anyway – but the silver lining of our virtual world is definitely that our access to a technologically-driven AEC industry was catalyzed by need.
What’s in the future of virtual networking? While we’re not totally sure, we can probably expect a heightened sense of purpose for our Zoom calls and eating lunch behind a computer screen.
Lillian Minix is marketing coordinator at Timmons Group. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Concept by Heather McLaughlin.