Constant connectivity and virtual interactions have defined the workplace since so many of us returned to the office after the pandemic. Which means that virtual networking has emerged as a cornerstone of the modern workplace.
With myriad online platforms and tools at their disposal, professionals are expanding their networks, exchanging ideas and forging new opportunities with unprecedented ease. Yet, it is imperative to note that technology is merely an enabler and should not replace other elements within the workspace or within our efforts to connect with one another.
The benefits of virtual networking, however, are undeniable. Our opportunities to connect are seemingly endless, from leveraging social media platforms such as LinkedIn to forge new connections to working the virtual room in online conference platforms. And now there’s the promise of even more intensive networking in the metaverse. In all, overcoming geographical barriers and connecting with like-minded individuals is easier than ever.
Virtual networking certainly helps to foster connectivity, but it may not always offer the same value as face-to-face interactions when it comes to cultivating creativity and collaboration in the workplace. This is why blending the two in a hybrid-work model is quickly shining as the preferred work model.
Virtual networking in the workplace
With just a few clicks, professionals can engage in discussions, attend webinars and access industry-specific communities without the constraints of time and location. During the pandemic and ever since, it has become abundantly clear that virtual meetings offer unrivaled convenience.
No need for further travel expenses, beating rush hour and shuffling schedules around to adjust to unexpected delays. Online platforms provide a stage for professionals to showcase their expertise, accomplishments and thought leadership, in-turn amplifying their personal brand.
At first glance, people would seem to prefer virtual meetings. And accessing them is significantly easier. Some 92 percent of people are more likely to attend online meetings or connect with people via social platforms than do it in person. Virtual meetings also allow for screen recordings, which people can save for future networking opportunities. Networking online also saves time for people, offering a solution to the 49 percent of people who don’t maintain contact with their network because they’re too busy.
However, while creating more time and convenience for team members is critical in today’s workspace, face-to-face networking acts as the integral spark in relationships with which they can be forged into something meaningful and longer lasting.
Nonverbal cues, body language and shared physical spaces play a significant role in fostering trust, empathy and collaboration. Many of the benefits of in-person networking can’t really be replaced through a screen. When you’re face to face with colleagues, you have more opportunities to connect on a personal level, to make a lasting impression and to communicate clearly and effectively.
Networking at the office allows for more organic and serendipitous encounters, during which chance conversations can lead to engaging ideas and partnerships. The lack of physical presence in virtual networking can sometimes hinder the development of strong relationships and inhibit the free flow of creativity. The difference is considerable. According to research, about 35 percent of the variability in a team’s performance can be explained by the number of times team members actually spoke face-to-face.
More importantly, how can we possibly gauge if we truly get along with a colleague if we only interact virtually? Initiating and cultivating a relationship is best done in person. We do this by sharing hobbies and interests, family background, career trajectories, even musical tastes. Getting to know someone along these dimensions is far more easily done in person interaction and conversation, which can then of course continue through virtual interactions.
Recognizing the importance of face-to-face networking in the workplace is crucial. These interactions offer an irreplaceable space for professionals to establish deeper connections, build trust and foster collaboration and innovation.
Bringing it all together
To harness the full potential of networking, companies need to strike a balance between virtual and in-person interactions. Leveraging virtual networking for initial connections, information sharing, and broadening perspectives can lay the groundwork for future collaborations. However, it is crucial to complement this with in-person networking whenever possible.
Virtual networking has revolutionized the way professionals connect and collaborate in the workplace. It offers unparalleled access to a global community, convenience and efficiency. However, it is essential to recognize that face-to-face networking possesses unique qualities that foster creativity and collaboration on a deeper level.
One of the most significant contributions of connecting virtually is that borders are no longer a hindrance. Team members can participate in activities together, and if done right, they can boost team cohesion.
Striking a balance between virtual and in-person interactions empowers professionals to navigate the modern workplace with agility, leveraging the strengths of each approach. And it seems that workers agree, since 72 percent of them say they prefer a hybrid model, in which they can vary their week by working both from the office and from home. Embracing the digital realm while cherishing the power of personal connections is the way forward.