In the professional world, networking is a necessary part of advancing your career. Whether spending a few extra minutes chatting after a team meeting or attending a days-long conference, you need to do this if you want to get ahead in professional services and tech. While annoying at times, it provided the built-in benefit of fulfilling the basic human need for social interaction. That freed us up to focus remaining energy on the relationships we cared about.
But for all the benefits of networking, it was a double edged sword. With the average professional spending 6.5 hours per week networking, it took up a significant amount of time and mental energy. Now that the pendulum has swung in the other direction – from networking fatigue to social deprivation – it’s time to take a look at how we keep in touch during challenging times.
Time saved is energy bottled
When you’re working from home instead of an office, you “find” more time in your schedule. This is particularly true if your evenings were filled with events keeping you out until 9 pm or later. But let’s be honest: in no way were you able to prepare yourself to go from regular outings to complete lockdown. That means the habit of going out – and the energy you’ve built up internally for going out – is sitting dormant, likely causing a feeling of restlessness on top of whatever else you might be feeling.
The challenge with being at home full time is that you lack the social stimulus that your body and mind expect. Even if you don’t particularly enjoy networking, you still got used to it on some level. And, unfortunately, socializing at home is just not the same. For example, you may love your kids, but talking to them for three hours every night is simply not the same as talking to peers at a networking event.
If socializing is left to fall by the wayside, that pent up energy and restlessness can become damaging to your mental health. Simply put: you need an outlet for the energy.
Unbottling is now your choice
There’s a silver lining to the sudden shift from networking frenzy to at-home solitude: choice. You may not have had a choice in the past, so you got used to your circumstances. Now you do. You built up skills and energy for small talk, shop talk, “not shop talk” talk, and more. So use it for your own benefit.
First, take stock of what you really need:
- Fun conversations.
- Deep chats.
- Intellectual stimulation.
- Human connection.
An easy way to figure that out is identify what kinds of events / gatherings you used to attend — and see what you don’t get to do now. Take stock of what you found gratifying or “happily tiring” afterward. So not necessarily that you loved it, but that it felt like the time spent was worth it. Then think of it in terms of the kind of socializing (large group, intellectual, fun, etc.), not necessarily the venue or type of person.
Once you have an idea of the types of socializing that were good for you, look for digital equivalents or ways to empower that interaction with technology. From there, you can develop your own outlet for that energy, removing restless and adding a sense of connection back in your day:
- Fun conversations: Reconnect with friends that you could talk to for hours about nothing, whether over the phone or video chat.
- Deep chats: Get in touch with a coworker or industry peer to go over the real issues at hand for you.
- Intellectual stimulation: Watch a Masterclass or TED Talk to learn from the greats or attend a virtual panel event.
- Human connection: Attend a virtual games night, drinks night, party, or whatever type of activity you enjoy. Also see how you can include any family or roommates that live with you!
Keeping in touch gets both harder and easier when we can’t go out to events. While you lose the “automaticness” of walking into an event and having people to talk to, you gain the ability to control and choose what kinds of socializing and social activities you engage in.
So while the process won’t be automatic like it was before, the outcomes will be far more valuable and helpful to you. And, who knows, you might even find that your “networking” pays off double when you choose a path instead of having one chosen for you.