The Art of Networking During a Pandemic: Three Ways to Expand Your Social Network Without Leaving Your Home

    The Art of Networking During a Pandemic: Three Ways to Expand Your Social Network Without Leaving Your Home

    By Ellen Lichtenstein, Owner, Just Add Communications

    It’s September 2020 and we are now more than five months into what feels like a never-ending moratorium on gatherings and events. I can’t remember the last time I ate in a restaurant and my most recent PRSA Colorado luncheon (February) feels like a lifetime ago.

    Most of us in the fields of Public Relations, Marketing, and Communications have been working remotely since March or April. As of now, it’s anyone’s guess when the office will become “a thing” again. These days, our coworkers tend to either wear diapers or have fur. Needless to say, they are not the best at contributing to our creative vibe or helping us find our next career move.

    So, if you’re feeling isolated and disconnected professionally, you’re not alone. All the ways in which we used to connect with our professional peers have been moved online or put on hold indefinitely. Jokes about how much introverts are loving this aside, we are all feeling at least a little pain from the social stagnation that comes with our current isolation and monotony. Yes, we’re lucky to live in the digital age, but how many Zoom happy hours can you really attend?

    On a personal note, I left a full-time job to start my own business during this “special” time.  As any entrepreneur will tell you, building relationships and connections that lead to customers is key to surviving the startup phase. Unlike many who came before me, I couldn’t just walk into small business association meetings or get my name out by being a social butterfly with new business cards. However, using strategies like the three below have helped me broaden my network, add the excitement of meeting new people to my COVID-era lifestyle, and even find opportunities for earning new business.

    Reconnect with long-lost colleagues

    I’ve found a lot of value in using this time to reconnect with people I haven’t spoken to in years. Chances are, they’re in a similar position and hearing from an old connection might add some novelty into their day as well. Showing genuine interest in what’s happening in their lives and catching up with what they’ve done since you last spoke can add new energy to your day-to-day.

    Maybe there will be an opportunity to collaborate on a future project or maybe they know someone that you need to meet (or vice versa). If you’ve drifted apart, you may no longer run in the same circles and be able to connect one another to people you’ve each been seeking out.

    Network outside your comfort zone

    I recently came to a realization that my personal and professional networks lacked diversity and that is something I wanted to change. I decided to make a conscious effort to meet people that I wouldn’t naturally encounter: people who were different than me in race, gender, age, skill sets, industries, or otherwise. I had to intentionally step into some (online) spaces that weren’t an obvious fit for me and risk some discomfort or even rejection.

    The results have been very positive so far and I am looking forward to continuing this practice of stepping into social spaces where I don’t automatically belong. After all, I already know who I already know and if I go where they are, I will already know them!

    Look for ways to be helpful

    I don’t think this is a new tip when it comes to networking, but it bears repeating. Keep your eyes open for opportunities to give, not take. For example, if you’re on LinkedIn, it could be giving helpful advice if you see a post you’re qualified to comment on.

    It might be messaging someone privately to let them know you can assist with a challenge they have presented publicly. It could be contacting people you know – or even people you don’t – and offering to lend your skills or expertise to something they are struggling with. Whether it’s for a nonprofit cause or you just see a problem you can solve, a sincere offer to help (with no strings attached) can open the door to new personal and professional relationships.

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