Professional Networking in the ‘New Normal’

· Blog

While some people missed gatherings and in-person networking events during the long months of pandemic lockdown, others saw an opportunity to innovate. Video conferencing, webinars and online networking platforms have grown immensely in popularity over the past three years.

With the return to "normal" (and let's insist on quotation marks!), face-to-face activities have resumed. Some may feel that they have lost the naturalness and spontaneity they once showed during these social occasions. Others feel they have to relearn how to build and maintain professional relationships in person. How do we break the ice now? Shake hands? Do an Obama-style fist bump? Is it still a good idea to maintain a certain distance from others you’re talking to?

Ways of meeting have evolved since the beginning of the pandemic, forcing workers to be original in coming up with ways to continue networking. As professional activities resume in the real world, networking is also finding its place. Several events are coming back in-person in 2023 – it's up to you to make the most of them!

Is it still relevant or not?

Professional networking still plays an essential role in 2023, but we can now afford to be more selective – not every event is necessarily worth your time or travel. Before checking “yes” to confirm your attendance, ask yourself if it is relevant to you or the company in general, to its current projects, to your career advancement or to the visibility of a product or service you want to promote.

Unsure of the usefulness of a networking event? Ask yourself a few questions: How does it benefit you personally or your firm? What are you trying to accomplish by attending? Are there any participants with whom you would particularly like to talk? Is it an activity targeted towards beginners or experts and, if so, is that right for you? Is it tailored to your field or goals?

And since we are talking about objectives, there can be many different ones that could influence your decision. A professional could take part in an event to find a job, a contract, a new client or a business opportunity, to expand their network, find a mentor, or simply for the pleasure of socializing with colleagues.

When choosing an event that aligns with your intentions, ask yourself what type of interactions work best for you. A roundtable activity is ideal for communicating with peers in a creative and collaborative way. Key conferences in your field are likely to offer expert speakers of interest to your sector. A less structured evening like a cocktail reception may better appeal to a professional who wants to converse in a more random and casual way with peers.

Various sources have shown that, not surprisingly, professional networks have diminished somewhat during the pandemic. By attending activities tailored to your goals, you will have the opportunity to rebuild your network of contacts by focusing on meaningful professional relationships.

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Virtual or face-to-face: what to choose?

Once you have determined that the event is relevant to you or your company, consider whether to opt for face-to-face mode. What are the advantages of being present in flesh and blood rather than pixels?

For many, since it is more authentic, face-to-face opens the door to more opportunities. It is also a way to deepen the exchanges by adding a more human component: eye contact, non-verbal language, intonations and a host of other details that are difficult to detect in writing or even on video.

In person, you will probably want to opt for networking attended by professionals with whom you are particularly keen to converse one-on-one, or who will allow you to establish links with other people or organizations that are important to you. Think of events such as professional association meetings, workshops and seminars, lunches, and even more informal activities that feel less like "working." Match your event attendance with the type of activity that best suits your personality: whether you're more comfortable with small group networking, large conferences or learning opportunities. There's likely an event that's appropriate for your socialization preferences.

For its part, virtual attendance at events allows better accessibility to more events as well as to networking activities that either don’t fit well into your busy schedule or that take place in another city or time zone. In addition, attending webinars is often less expensive (or even sometimes free) than the same face-to-face event, yet still provide opportunities to connect with peers or prospects.

The downside of virtual meetings is that there are sometimes technical difficulties: unstable internet connections, faulty computer equipment, inability to converse with other members, or unforeseen events such as unwanted ambient noise, power cuts, distractions, or even the cat that steals the show in front of the camera!

Of course, you can maintain flexibility by mixing up both in-person and online exchanges. Also, if the pandemic has taught us anything, it's that it's better to stay home when you're sick. Thus, the virtual option is a must when you still want to enjoy the benefits of an event without contaminating your peers.

For all these reasons, hybrid events will certainly continue to be part of professional life for the foreseeable future.

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The importance of making the effort to meet again in person

Although they were lifesaving for a long time, virtual events, meetings and other social and professional activities may have seemed impersonal to some. Some mention the lack of spontaneity of interactions and the difficulty sometimes of understanding the emotions and subtleties behind what someone is saying. Indeed, eye contact and non-verbal language play a major role in the way a message is delivered and interest demonstrated but this is challenging to convey or interpret online.

As a result, many of us feel motivated to ditch the pajamas and return to face-to-face encounters. In-person activities are not only more stimulating, but they allow things that the virtual world can’t quite match, including the feelings of solidarity and human connectivity that come during in-person exchanges between people.

After all this time at home, you may have become accustomed to the near absence of professional contact, but from a psychological point of view, it is still important to engage in real in-person conversations with others. A large number of people suffered psychological distress during the lockdowns. Face-to-face networking is a valuable tool for building new professional relationships, but also for solidifying a sense of belonging and accomplishment, while breaking isolation.

And, finally, networking does not need to be super rigid: have fun and participate with an open mind and curiosity and you will come out a winner!

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Networking in the (almost) post-pandemic era involves its share of compromises, but remains essential to progress both individually and as a company, regardless of the sphere in which you operate.

Choose events that best align with your personal goals and those of your workplace. Need some inspiration? Consult our Directory of Events, Training and Awards of Excellence in Communication and Public Relations.

So, do you intend to return to your good old networking habits or will you stick to a hybrid formula?