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How to Build Your Network While Working From Home

In the absence of conferences and coffee chats, how can you maintain your connections and find new ones? Here we outline four practical ways to improve your networking while working from home.

Professional networking has always taken shape in one of two ways: either you meet someone in person only to move the relationship online, or you establish a connection online only to move it into the real world. Perhaps you met someone at a conference that you then solidified a new partnership with over the phone, or a cold email to someone you admire ended with a coffee meetup.
These two networking routes have always been ripe with opportunities to meet like-minded people and further your career. But now that physical meetings—as a mechanism to both find new connections and cultivate existing ones—have been removed from the equation, how do you continue to expand your network in a world that works and operates from home?
To start, getting savvy with virtual networking relies on you being upfront and honest with your intentions, as well as being patient with correspondence and scheduling. Everyone is navigating this new normal differently, and it’s important to be respectful of that.
What’s more, the efforts you put forward to expand your network pre-COVID certainly don’t have to come to a standstill now that social distancing measures are in place. There are plenty of creative ways to continue to meet new people, learn insights from those you admire, and partner with folks you wouldn’t have otherwise gotten the opportunity to partner with.
There are four easy and effective ways you can start expanding your network today, whether you’re working hard at home or have found yourself out of work and looking for new opportunities. Let’s detail what they are, and how you can utilize them to your best advantage.

Four Ways to Build Your Network While Remote

Utilize your warm connections

Chances are, the greatest virtual networking resource is right in front of you—that is, the network that surrounds the people you already know. Tapping people in your circle for introductions to folks they know isn’t a new trick, though its value is heightened during a time when meeting in-person is largely off-limits.
Many people may feel less inclined to engage with cold emails and calls in this climate given the absence of a true ‘endgame’ for digital correspondence. These endgames, such as the ubiquitous coffee chat, office meeting, or lunch meetup, are usually where online introductions lead to. Their absence may deter folks from responding to people they’ve never met before.
In a remote-first world, a warm introduction can make all the difference. People feel more inclined to engage with you if you were referred by someone they know, which increases your likelihood of landing a video or phone call with them, regardless of whether you’ll eventually meet them in person. What’s more, they can create a chain of worthwhile introductions that you may not have anticipated.
For example, let’s say you get introduced to someone in your industry who you’ve always wanted to meet. You exchange a few emails, have a couple of calls, and eventually, that person says “you should connect with so-and-so, I think you two would have a lot to talk about.”
Suddenly, the person you were warmly introduced to is now advocating on your behalf, warmly introducing you to someone in their own network. Warm introductions can facilitate a domino effect that’s hard to attain elsewhere.
Tips to receive warm introductions:
1. Start at your closest point. Don’t immediately reach out to someone you barely know to ask for an introduction. Start with folks who you know best, and can be your strongest advocates.
2. Be clear about your intentions. Don’t tip-toe around the fact that you’re asking someone for a favor. Be direct with what you want—it saves both parties a lot of time.
3. Give your contact a reason to refer you. Don’t ask for an introduction to someone just so you can ‘say hello’ or ‘pick their brain.’ Have a clear, worthwhile motive and communicate it. The more compelling it is, the more inclined they’ll feel to introduce you.

Initiate dialogue after webinars

It’s hard to know when conferences and conventions will return. Therefore, many companies have now turned to hosting online events and webinars that are not only occurring on a more frequent basis than their real-life counterparts, but are also largely open to whoever would like to tune in.
This “democratization of conferences” enables you to take advantage of networking opportunities that you may not have had access to previously.
While networking at conferences is often the primary motive for many to attend, online webinars can still offer plenty of chances to meet folks in your industry––you just have to take a bit more initiative. Instead of sparking up a conversation with someone you’re seated next to, you can practice that same method of creating connections via virtual channels.
If an online speaker or panel member made an excellent point, email them why you thought so, along with a few follow-up questions that you may have started pondering. If a certain audience member submitted a question that is similar to one you were thinking of, reach out to them to talk about how you’ve been approaching it.
In sum, be keen to follow-up with folks over a shared experience; address something you both witnessed, and move the conversation forward by adding to the dialogue or asking them to connect next week about a similar topic.
Tips for initiating dialogue post-webinar:
1. Reach out to folks where they spend their time. Don’t feel like you always have to engage with someone over email. If you noticed a particular individual is very active on Twitter or LinkedIn, try reaching out there.
2. Don’t assume it’s awkward. Engaging with someone you just spent an hour listening to isn’t strange unless you make it so. Be friendly, concise, and clear with your intentions on reaching out. Use the experience you shared with them to make the outreach more personal.
3. Add to the conversation. If you’re looking to spark up a valuable connection, don’t just reaffirm what a specific individual said. You want to bring something new to the table—be it an opportunity to collaborate, a new perspective on a similar idea, or something else.

Host your own jam sessions

Gathering like-minded individuals together to talk about industry-related trends or new learnings through each person’s COVID experience can be a great way to connect with people. These ‘jam sessions’ aren’t designed to be formal webinars—though they could end up formalizing into one if that route is agreed upon.
These virtual meetups are more focused on gathering 3-10 individuals together who are working on similar ideas to share their learnings and struggles. Perhaps you’re building a CPG brand and want to connect with other founders doing the same. Maybe you’re a chef looking to discuss strategies restaurants are using to optimize takeout and delivery options.  
These virtual sessions bring tremendous value to your networking capabilities. First off, they give you a concrete ask to bring to individuals you’ve always wanted to connect with. Secondly, they’re designed to be intimate so that you have the opportunity to interact with everyone involved. And third, they can be easily repeated for recurring sessions.
Tips for hosting a jam session:
1. Communicate the value-add. When you’re recruiting folks for your virtual hangout, detail what’s in it for them. What kinds of things will they be able to learn, and what are you looking at them to bring to the table?
2. Have an agenda. It doesn’t need to be a rigid schedule of topics to be covered every five minutes, but having a source of guidance will make the conversation run a lot smoother.
3. Follow-up with a summary. Don’t underestimate the power of note taking. Keep track of the learnings and insights the group gained from the conversation and distribute that information afterward to the team.

Tell an honest story

Networking for employment opportunities has taken on a new form given the surge in unemployment and job cuts across a wide range of industries and departments. If you’re looking for a new role after losing your old position due to COVID factors, know that it’s largely not your fault. During these times, the best thing you can do for yourself in expanding your network for a job search is to be honest and upfront as to what happened, and what you’re looking for next.
While many companies have been severely damaged by the effects of COVID, many are indeed surging due to a heightened demand for their products or services. And those folks are eager to recruit talent that they wouldn’t otherwise have had the opportunity to capture.
Therefore, it’s best to be active in seeking out recruiters in such companies/industries and telling them your story. It’s also worth reaching out to people in your immediate network to amplify your availability and talents. Many people are more inclined to show generosity during these times, and thus more eager to help out folks that have unexpectedly found themselves out of work.
Tips for expanding your employment opportunities:
1. Lean on your friends first. Similar to warm introductions, getting a referral from a friend for a new position can accelerate the recruitment process drastically. Don’t feel embarrassed about telling your friends you’re now out of work; instead, communicate how eager you are to start something new.
2. Make the message about you. Don’t spend your entire time talking about how unfortunate COVID has been for people in your position. Briefly explain how you’ve ended up where you are, but then immediately shift the focus to championing yourself and your skill set.
3. Post publicly. Sometimes it can help to post publicly about your experience and new journey ahead. Try experimenting with both reaching out directly to relevant individuals, and also amplifying your entrance to the job search process through a public post to gain traction.
The key to building and maintaining your network remotely is to self-advocate; all of these tips require that you don’t just sit back and wait passively for opportunities to connect. By taking the initiative and getting in the habit of proactively reaching out, these tips will help you long after the return to the office.

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