As employees return to the office, in-person networking is making a comeback.
In fact, relationship-building was stated as the main objective for 35 percent of corporate events being planned this year, according to a recent survey.
Face-to-face events lead to spontaneous encounters and organic connections, which are unlikely in most virtual settings, experts say. Senior-level members are in the office to foster teamwork and morale, as are Gen Z workers who are enthusiastic to learn, but the middle generation is mostly missing, says Deepali Vyas, global head of Korn Ferry’s FinTech, Payments, and Crypto practice. “We now have the chance to get to know young, fiery talent and show them opportunities that we normally wouldn’t be able to,” she says.
But how to brush up on a set of skills that are unnatural to some and awkward to others? Some ideas:
Talk about your pandemic experience to break the ice and gauge how the other person feels about interacting in person, experts say. Many of us aren’t in the same headspace anymore, so make sure to understand new perspectives and boundaries, says Frances Weir, a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance. To get started, she says, you can ask people about how they or their families have been affected by the pandemic. Be respectful, and move on when it feels appropriate.
Shift your perspective.
The term “networking” may sound intimidating or bring up unpleasant associations for some people, says Val Olson, a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance. If you’re one of those people, try to think of networking as a way of learning, having interesting conversations, and contributing ideas, she suggests. “Think about how much you learn at a dinner party,” Olson says. “Networking yields the same results.” Relationships are crucial to success, so consider every meeting as an opportunity to get to know new people, and vice versa. Whether in-person or virtual, networking is a two-way street, she says.
Your interactions need to be simultaneously genuine, easygoing, and strategic, experts say. Write a short pitch or elevator speech to introduce yourself, says Olson. “Make it memorable and talk about the who, what, where, and how,” she says. For instance, you can say, “I’m a director of operations in fintech, and I ensure innovative companies have practical and agile plans to maximize profits.” It’s been a while since people mingled in person, so you could even go the extra mile and hand out business cards at events, she says. Ask for cards in return, and don’t forget to follow up with your new connections.
Use the office space.
Capitalize on the advantages of being in an office environment again. If you come across employees you don’t know in the hallways or the break room, you can have a chat, experts say. “Walking the hallways is a big way to get in front of people you really want to meet or bump into,” says Vyas. Another way to meet people within your organization is to attend walk-in meetings, she says. Even if you’re not scheduling a formal meeting, Vyas says, you can expand your circle by arranging lunch with as many people as you can.
With the Omicron wave fading, conferences and in-person events are bound to resume soon, says Vyas. Attend a gathering with your colleagues where you can represent both your firm and yourself. “Really take advantage of the marketplace today, as not everything is being done virtually,” Vyas says. Events are coming back on a smaller scale, which offers you a chance to stand out and access people more easily.