How to network in the age of Coronavirus

A particularly gregarious friend called me in near panic this morning. “My boss is forcing us to work from home because of Coronavirus,” she said anxiously. “And it’s lonely. So, so lonely. How do you do it?”

As someone who has telecommuted for well over a decade, I can tell you that once you get over the solitude thing, working from home can also be incredibly peaceful and productive.

The challenge can be in trying to figure out how to keep expanding or nurturing both your social and professional reach.*

Though we’re already living in a gig economy, the Coronavirus scare means people who are used to working in an office environment might find themselves working solo for the first time in their entire careers.

Here are some ways to keep connecting even when you feel completely disconnected.

Take advantage of time zone differences

Intimate apparel pioneer Dora Lau from DLI who recently sold the Curvy Couture brand explained that even though her company is now set up with a main office in Los Angeles, they have satellite offices all over the world. They also “rely heavily on technology and using different time zones to their advantage.” To that end, they’ve moved most of their meetings and networking online “especially using Skype and video.” With offices in Hong Kong, China, the UK and USA, Lau’s company is using the technology that they already have in place for networking and continuing with meetings as scheduled and simply moving the location from physical to digital. While some companies are slowing down, Lau’s company is creating a flow of meetings and interaction based on each unique time zone.

Virtual networking pro tip: Keep a database of your colleagues and co-workers time zones and use scheduling software to send out emails at a time they’re most likely to respond. And if virtual meetings are required, try to set a time that has the easiest overlap for everyone involved. Keep in mind that your first thing in the morning could be someone else’s tea break.

Pretend you’re at a conference

Many people rely on yearly conferences and expos to expand their professional reach, so when SXSW and the Natural Products Expo West events were
postponed, tens of thousands of people lost the ability to catch up with colleagues, scout out new jobs or simply introduce themselves to new people. Nikki Nardick, Knack Public Relations was planning on attending Expo West in its entirety. “I had networking dinners and events lined up after the show. It was truly going to be networking from about 8:30am to 10 PM! Imagine all of the people you meet in that amount of time for four days.”

While she was disappointed when the event was canceled, she focused her networking on LinkedIn and found “The most meaningful conversations I’ve had on LinkedIn have been with new connections! Some I’ve initiated and some others have.” In the vacuum of the conference not taking place, Nardick noticed other professionals eager to connect and interact. “It seems that everyone in the natural products space is looking to get their networking fix without Expo West to gather at.” Better yet, because there was an existing common thread there’s less awkwardness in starting an online conversation with a virtual stranger. There’s also less pressure. Or as Nardick explains “I learned that connecting virtually can still be impactful without the immediate opportunity to meet in real life as long as you take the time to get to know someone’s knack, current goals, specialties, etc.”

Virtual networking pro tip: Don’t let someone’s title intimidate you. Nardick encourages people not to be afraid to connect with thought leaders in your space. “I would have happily gone up to a high-level executive and shook their hand at Expo West without knowing of their status, so don’t let a high-level title intimidate you to do the same on social media.”

Work your existing network

Eric Groves, CEO/Co-Founder of Alignable a small business referral networking site that boasts over 4.5 million members explains that “there are two success factors when it comes to networking: trust and remaining top-of-mind.” But it can be tough to remain on someone’s mind when they don’t see you on a regular basis. “With the Coronavirus, this is more challenging, but not impossible.”

Groves explains that the best way to do this is to focus on “engaging and re-engaging” with people with whom you’ve already established trust.

So now would be the time to reach out to people you’ve worked within the past, especially those who know and already trust your work.

Virtual networking pro tip: Don’t be shy about asking for referrals. If someone already knows and trusts you, chances are good they’ll be happy to introduce you around virtually as well.

Don’t start off by asking for a favor, but if you’ve reconnected with someone online and really want to connect with someone they know, don’t be afraid to ask.

Create and share quality content

Whether it’s writing a unique post on LinkedIn or sharing updates you’re a private network, people are looking for what you have to say now more than ever. While Groves’ service is specific to his network, the overall advice holds true “The more quality content you post, the greater your visibility and the easier it is for you to stay top-of-mind with your peers without having to all gather offline.” Virtual networking pro tip: If you’re a bit rusty at social media or content creation, start small and pay attention to what gets the most responses and shares or interaction. And even if you’re panicked about Coronavirus, try to limit online sharing to topics that are fun, informative or have potential traction. We’re all nervous enough.

*At some point you also start to think of the USPS/UPS/FEDEX people as your co-workers. Hi Sonia, Kenny, Guan and Zach!