Networking: virtually

It does exactly what it says on the tin

A little while ago, I wrote a piece about digital transformation and my thoughts on the remote revolution. Subsequent to this, I was invited for an online conversation with Luke Quilter, CEO of local digital agency Sleeping Giant Media as a keynote conversation as part of an online networking event for the Invicta Chamber of Commerce.

The conversation was sparked after a member of the Chamber team saw our #creativityconnects video (which you can see on our website homepage) and felt it could be a good conversation piece as part of the networking. We had a great chat and, as part of this, Luke asked me what I thought the New Normal would look like or if we’d simply go back to the way things were. Of course, I don’t know any more than anyone else, but I expressed a hope that we’d all come out of this with overall a lot more consideration for the world around us, consideration for the impact we make, how we do things and for the well-being of those around us. So far, so profound.

But in addition, one aspect I can’t wait to return to is being able to indulge those senses that have been deprived or muted for so long, like experiencing a great meal out in a sanitised bubble, not having to queue so much (come on, I’m British, we’re professionals at it) and those human touches like shaking hands, a literal pat on the back or a simple hug. This was exacerbated with two more interactions I had over the next couple of weeks: firstly at a film shoot for some promotional work we are doing for a forthcoming project (more on that soon) and then a most touching surprise when my team turned up outside my door to sing to me Happy Birthday from the street with homemade signs – guys I hadn’t seen in person in some cases for four months. The former showed, albeit in a limited situation, just how much more creative and interactive work is with my colleagues and partners when you’re in the same room, and the second just how damn much I’d missed seeing my team in person – both causing high emotions. It was similar when I visited a client a few days ago for the first time in London since February; just great to be able to sit and talk in person.

Despite these engagements, I’ve been drawn back to something else that happened in my video call with the Chamber and counters my ‘it’s much better in person’ argument – the virtual break out ‘rooms’ the attendees then transferred to for networking after our chat.

Here’s the thing: whilst I love talking to and meeting new people and I may be able to talk to just about anyone (or as a friend once succinctly put it ‘you could make friends in a morgue’) I’m really not the biggest fan of networking. I can find it awkward, uncomfortable, sometimes insincere, and some of the character traits you can see in people are not always the most appealing. No doubt I have to look at myself and how I’m approaching it, but online, now that’s a different story.

In our groups, people were welcoming, accommodating, polite and above all, respectful of each other. Everyone got the chance to pitch, talk, share and listen to everyone else. There was a time limit per room session, so on the whole, most were mindful to not hog the airtime and encourage those forward that hadn’t ventured anything so far. After a couple of rooms, I was involved, engaged and enjoying it, even disappointed to leave earlier than I would have liked.

Despite this positive experience, I struggle to believe that this will be the future for networking, particularly on a local or regional level. However, it does open the door to a more global networking stage; businesses will undoubtedly be thinking twice about the validity from a logistical and financial perspective of attending national or international networking or trade events, so this maybe not just the next best thing, but a more suitable replacement.

So, whilst we live in a time where we are literally keeping people at arm’s length, I’m bemoaning the fact that I can’t have my full team together in the office and I love travelling, it’s clear that for some aspects of business, this digital revolution and new ways of working certainly bring business benefits and new opportunities.

Or in this case, it’s perhaps more of a literal case of the ‘net, working.