Rouzet Agaiby, Head of Business Development, discusses how networking is changing.
Earlier in the year I wrote a blog about the importance of networks and networking. At the time I was confident that the only way to build a solid network was to connect, meet and continue meeting to build trust and develop the relationship. This was pre-COVID-19.
Having gone through a significant transition over the past few months, I have come to realise that there are different ways to network and build trust. I started reflecting on the possibilities of still networking without meeting in person and whether this will still be the case after lockdown measures are fully relaxed. I feel that people, partly because of feeling isolated during lockdown, have more empathy and time and are therefore more willing to make the effort to connect virtually.
Networking virtually has not been easy for many of us, as we have had to adapt quickly to having conversations via screens, which is certainly at the expense of eye contact. I also realised that the first interaction that people used to have, when they met in person, was the handshake. This used to say a lot about the person and was one of the first mediums through which trust was built. Meeting face to face also allowed ‘small talk’ as there was a chance to share information about aspects of the journey, which broke the ice. Networking virtually, now and probably for the near term, means that you do not have access to those extra helpers. So, how will we continue to build trust?
I personally find that having the camera on is a must. And in the absence of a handshake, raising my hand, as a way of saying hello on camera, is a little gesture to show that I have nothing to hide. Checking that the time is still suitable to have the conversation is another small act that shows willingness to be flexible and understanding. Whilst body language was another source of cues during face to face meetings, it is still feasible to determine a person’s level of interest from the attention they pay to the screen, as well as their posture. Therefore, it is important to be conscious of how much you lean in, versus the amount of time you sit backwards, as well as the occasional camera to eye contact that mimics the eye contact that you would have exercised during a face to face encounter. As you can see there are numerous small gestures that can help build trust, despite the obvious obstacle of meeting virtually.
So, what will post covid-19 networking look like? Having an engineering background, I can only extrapolate from the current signals. There will certainly be challenges around having a mix of people who will still prefer to connect virtually, those who will want to go back to their pre-COVID-19 days and those who will not be quite sure what will work for them. I can imagine that it will take a long time to reach an equilibrium where showing a preference for virtual meetings does not send wrong signals. Even when face to face meetings occur, how will we adapt the way trust is built? We will still likely not be able to exchange a firm handshake and will also likely have to maintain social distancing, along with the additional stress of making sure we do not touch surfaces. This additional required bandwidth will most likely take away from our ability to relax and focus on the relationship that is being built.
Having said that, I think we are all craving the human, face-to-face interaction and our minds will quickly adapt to put in the extra effort. We are realising how much more important it is to network and to invest time in networking, as it unravels sources of knowledge, improves our social wellbeing and gives us the opportunity to contribute to society in a meaningful way.
Trust will still continue to be the cornerstone to having solid relationships, so I envisage that we will have to mimic handshakes through other means. We will need to portray warmth and understanding through being more conscious of our body language, which will likely have a more dominant “social distancing” demeanor. More importantly, we will need to be more understanding when blunders do happen, as we all go through the learning curve.
Post COVID-19 will not be easy and we are unlikely to return to pre-COVID-19 ways anytime soon, so we will have to embrace change and adapt to our new reality.
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