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Will We Ever Socialise Again? Networking and a Pandemic

Updated: Sep 25, 2020

Networking, I hear you groan.

Or, used to groan. Are we looking back with rose tinted glasses? Deprived of human interaction and a casual time with peers and colleagues alike, are we now longing for the heady days of corporate entertainment?

Certainly, I have found that it is a channel I miss. Being able to grab an informal chat with a peer to catch up and gain a new perspective on industry movements or meet potential new clients, to whom you otherwise wouldn’t have access.

It is fairly easy to reach out to an acquaintance and have a virtual coffee (or indeed a socially distanced one now) as long as you can find the time. However, reaching out to strangers you want to meet and build an organic pipeline from, much more difficult.

Relying on cold calling or persistent emailing, which in a time of plenty seems a slight nuisance that is easily ignored but now feels somewhat more annoying and intrusive, is a tough activity to get right. Genuine interest, authentic tone and the natural flow of curiosity in a conversation is difficult to replicate from a cold start.

Building Meaningful Business Relationships

These adjustments to business engagement and interactions are showing the importance of relationship marketing. Traditionally, during a challenging time, businesses look at marketing as a luxury, not a necessity and as such, it is usually the first item on the chopping block. Now, however, with the lack of alternative business development opportunities, we are leaning heavily on marketing and building our online profiles.

There are, of course, companies who are forging ahead and adapting to the new situation swiftly. Bringing their events online and navigating it as best they can with speakers and networking rooms. While these are a great compromise, they are no substitute for the real thing.

Connectivity issues, work clashes - with us being at our desks, we’ve become more available and accessible at all hours and it’s difficult to not be pulled out of an event - and slightly awkward. It doesn’t feel natural. You can’t necessarily just join in a conversation as you would at an event. There are lags, we talk over each other and slightly too long pauses while we check the person has finished speaking.

Creating Authentic Connections

It’s the natural human interaction flow that is missing at online networking events, and difficult to recreate authentically.

The atmosphere is affected too. Particularly as a speaker - you want to make an entertaining and interesting speech but when you include a light hearted joke, everyone is on mute with video off so you’re met with a blacked out wall of silence!

Of course, it doesn’t detract from the brilliance of the speakers but we rely on human signals and cues to perform, bounce off and adapt accordingly. On video, those cues aren’t there so we have to blindly go it alone.

In some cases, this can be a positive. If you’re in the audience and the topic is not what you thought it was, you can leave quietly without making a scene. If we were there in person, we’d make the most out of it and cherry pick the learnings but because we’re at our desks, we feel like we must only break for those things that are particularly useful for our jobs. The heightened awareness that we need to be seen to be working because we’re at home. Like starting a new television series on - if we’re not grabbed immediately, we’re off.

Formality online can act as a barrier to the natural flow of a conversation and if you’ve got kids running around in the background, bursting into the room, or the dog barking at the postie, it can make us feel embarrassed and unprofessional. Despite that almost everyone is dealing with a similar situation, we’re more conscious of our own shortcomings.

Flexible Adaptations

We are all trying to adapt to a situation where our professional and personal lives are not only meeting but completely crossing over. And where this is positive in some ways, it is proving to be detrimental to others. Networking and business development is definitely one of those areas.

It’s not quite the same to say thank you to clients by having a virtual drinks party.


Will we ever go back to normal and what would that look like?

Going Back To "Normal"

If we decided to just put on events anyway, even with all the safety measures in place, would people still want to come? Would they feel it was worth it? If you have to choose between seeing your parents and going to a business event, is it even an option?

Will people feel ashamed or guilty for going? Will they feel the same for not going? Are we putting our peers, colleagues, prospects and/or clients in an uncomfortable situation by asking them to make this decision?

Or do people want to go back and want the excuse of being out and about again? Even if we organised a socially distanced event, would it be useful? Shouting across our separate podiums at each other. Not quite natural networking is it!

This isn’t just a challenge for start ups but big businesses too. The pandemic has really shown what social beings we humans are. We don’t buy from businesses, we buy from people. And networking is a huge part of that.

Potentially, networking events could become summer only occasions. Although Britain, and particularly the North East, isn’t famous for its great summer weather.

Maybe warm introductions from trusted acquaintances are a better way forward. It would certainly mean we wouldn’t have to receive cold calls and emails. However, this missed the importance of those chance opportunities. Some of the best partnerships start from the most unexpected places. I’ve had many conversations with people where we were introduced for something completely different, I’ve explained my services and they weren’t aware that they even existed and were now interested in themselves. And my favourite unplanned meeting of minds is this example of data start up, Wordnerds, and government department, DWP.

Time will tell I suppose but one thing is for certain, safety is paramount and networking is very important.

What are your ideas for safer networking? How have you been organising your business development? Are your clients showing signs of wanting to return to the social scene? Perhaps you’re relieved to not have to go to them anymore! Let us know.

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