When you think of business networking what comes to mind? Hotel conference rooms? Networking breakfasts or coffee hours? Or perhaps it’s an image that is starting to feel dated: boozy lunches or closing deals on the golf course. The business world is rapidly evolving. Advances in technology, greater diversity, and changing workforce priorities have made things look and operate differently. Networking has come in line with these shifts—becoming more digital, more integrated, and more important than ever. A societal sea-change in how we think about our careers, especially among younger people is affecting this. Most of us no longer expect or desire a sole lifelong vocation, or even decades of employment with one company. Each job is just a stop on the route to our own individual goals. On top of this, many experts estimate that upwards of 70% of positions aren’t advertised. The effects of the pandemic on the job market is only set to amplify this. We are in an age where professional networks have become vital.
The rise of Co-working spaces and a new style of networking also go hand in hand. In a co-working space, networking is less of a distinct task and instead something professionals can seamlessly incorporate into their week in bite-sized ways. Co-working spaces like The Wing, a women’s only space which was quickly expanding globally from the US, or the Tara Building in Dublin, had been generating a lot of excitement. Coronavirus now puts the entire model of co-working in a precarious position. However the central idea of a community-based approach will continue to be invaluable. Just as the need to network often and consistently will.
Luckily professionals today have an increasing number of digital tools at their disposal. Web Summit held their North American conference, Collision, entirely online in June and plan to do the same in December for their next event. Developing an app that would allow for conference attendees to network remotely was a major priority for them. As CEO, Paddy Cosgrave, describes, “Speakers are the icing on the cake of conferences, but networking is the true reason people go to events.” There is also the vast resource of social media. LinkedIn told the Irish times that conversations between members were up 55% since lockdown and live broadcasts are becoming a much more utilised function. Users have also been much chattier overall, with comments on live broadcasts up 272%. Dating app Bumble, has also expanded into networking this year. Bumble Bizz allows people to swipe through and connect with local people with shared professional interests. Even Twitter has become a connecting source for freelancers and creatives, with editors often soliciting pitches from a tweet.
The pandemic has reminded us that no person is an island. We have had to rely on our social networks in new ways during this challenging time. We’ve also had to embrace digital. Our careers may now need the same to stay resilient. As we wade into the uncertain future, people will need to take more initiative in order to make new connections and to strengthen those they already have. A strategically comprised network of mutually beneficial relationships will be a huge asset for riding out the storm.