The coronavirus pandemic has led many of us to work remotely, meaning we no longer have our colleagues’ familiar presence next to us as we get through the working day. For some, it feels like a blessing to have the freedom and comfort of working from home, while others are struggling with issues like the separation of work from the rest of life. Either way, though, you might be thinking about a longer-term question. How do you build and maintain a network of relationships, when everyone is staying at home? Given that remote working may be heading towards becoming a ‘new normal’ for office workers like lawyers and associated legal professionals, this is likely to become an important issue for all of us. It’s especially pressing for those currently out of work, but as a network of contacts is important for career success, it's something to think about for those still employed as well. Let’s think about how to go about networking in the time of coronavirus.
Jun 23, 2020
Let people see your face
It’s great to pick up the phone to speak to people, rather than typing away at a long chain of emails. But even better is to speak to someone using one of the videoconferencing platforms that are becoming more and more widespread – Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts, and the like. Seeing someone’s face – and them seeing yours – will create a more personal connection and enable you to be remembered much more than a simple name on a screen.
Of course, video calls are not always the best way to communicate. In general, they’re better for pre-arranged appointments – people don’t always appreciate being called by video out of the blue when they may be lounging on their sofa eating chips as they work. But using video when appropriate can be a good way to make a connection.
Speaking of seeing faces, if you’re currently employed you should also be asking whether there is a picture of you on the firm’s website. With more and more contacts being made online, the human element is important. It doesn’t matter about picking the most flattering picture – we’re not talking about internet dating here. It’s only a way of making you seem more like a real person in the minds of potential clients or other useful contacts.
Value the interruptions
Everyone working from home has faced the problem of interruptions to important calls: kids crying, dogs barking, and the delivery driver showing up to drop off your latest online purchase. These might seem like part of the drawback of remote working. Indeed, in a particularly serious call like a job interview, they might be unwelcome.
But for everyday communication, interruptions such as these can create a touch of humor and light-heartedness. They might even spark conversations: perhaps you didn’t know your colleague had a dog, and you’re wondering what breed it is? Or perhaps your colleague has received a package from one of your favorite clothing stores, and you’re realizing you’ve got something in common?
When we’re working from home, it’s ok for things to be more casual, and that can be a good thing. In fact, these sorts of personal moments might help create connections that wouldn’t have been made in the office.
Tell people something about yourself
Given that an increasing amount of communication is likely to take place electronically as the world gets more comfortable with remote work, it’s important to stand out if you want to build relationships. Find a way of making yourself more than a series of characters on a screen: get into conversations, find things you have in common, or drop something in about your interests. Mention your favorite sports team, or what you’re doing the upcoming weekend.
Of course, not everyone wants to be distracted when they’re trying to get on with work, so you need to strike a balance. It might be better not to ask lots of questions – just briefly mention what you’re up to or throw in some friendly line, and they can choose whether to engage or not.
Your goal is to make sure you don’t miss out on the advantages of meeting people, despite the lack of face-to-face contact. Partly, of course, this is about staying sane while working from home, by maintaining the social contact that was once an intrinsic part of your day. But your career relies on getting to know people, too, and it’s important to think about this even when you’re spending less time venturing into the world and more time remaining at home.