Remote Networking Is Not As Painful As It Sounds

Three networking strategies that are more important than ever

Colorful illustration of people harvesting from orchard yards.
Colorful illustration of people harvesting from orchard yards.
Illustration: Jackson Joyce

A few months into this unexpected workplace experiment, it turns out: We’re kind of into it.

One June survey of people forced to work from home by Covid-19 found that 82% wanted to continue doing so at least two days per week, and 35% wanted to continue full time.

The problem is: We like being around each other, too. And, professionally, we need it. Many of our best new opportunities come from encounters with other people. When you sit somewhere new in the office cafeteria you could learn about an opening in another department. In pre-meeting chitchat, a client might give you a lead on a new opportunity.

We’re all experimenting with how to work without the accidental but potentially deep connection that face-to-face conversations facilitate — even when it’s just two colleagues greeting each other in a hallway.

Digital networking is possible, but it’s rarely effortless.Here’s how to do it well.

Say “Thank you”

Expressing gratitude renews ties with someone you haven’t talked with for a while, and it’s always welcome. One study found that people actually underestimate how happy recipients will be when they receive thank-you letters. Your manager from three jobs ago would love to hear how you used the presentation skills that she helped you develop. “Thank You” is also an excellent subject line for cold emails to people you admire — even if it’s just to thank them for the work they put out into the world.

While this habit’s immediate payoff is feeling good about the world, the secondary benefit is connection: learning what past connections are up to, or creating an opening for a friendly chat. Your old manager might know somebody who would be perfect for that role you’re trying to fill, or that product designer you admire might be willing to meet for a coffee.

Sending thank-you notes can be quick, simple — and productive for future work. Emily Monaco notes in The Muse that every time she files a story, she makes a list of the people who helped, and drafts thank-you emails, which she then sends once the link goes live. Sometimes she gets no response, but often she does. “One PR rep I wrote to thank for help locating a source followed up with a list of other clients she was working with, which ultimately led me to find the perfect source for an upcoming story.”

Make introductions

You can build a vast network by developing the discipline to reach out to a few people each week.

Introductions not only help other people make friends and connections, they can make both parties feel more connected to you. To do these well, writes networking expert Kelly Hoey in her book Build Your Dream Network, don’t just send a “you two should know each other” email. “I refer to these sorts of emails as ‘dump and drive,’” she writes. “Dropped in someone’s email inbox without context (or permission), this sort of message typically leaves recipients cold to the introduction because they are left to figure out why the introduction was even made.”

Instead, make double opt-in introductions. Email or call both people separately and ask if they would like to be introduced. Since both know you, they are likely to say yes, but you want to make sure people are willing, and have the capacity to follow up This also allows you to check that you have both parties’ correct information (useful if someone just left a job or moved).

Do favors

The human drive toward reciprocity is so strong that research has found that we feel the need to reciprocate for kindnesses; to “pay it forward” (do nice things for others when someone does something for us); and even to reward others in our network that we see doing good deeds.

You can generate a lot of activity by putting something positive into the universe — and you can do that from your kitchen table as easily as from a regular office.

Laura Vanderkam is the author of several time management books including Off the Clock and 168 Hours. She blogs at LauraVanderkam.com.

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