Instead, videoconferencing is the order of the day, and we are all becoming very familiar with the usage of platforms such as Zoom as we all go online as an alternative. The HR world is following this pattern, with most networking groups hosting webinars to keep in touch, form new connections, share useful information and provide useful support to each other. Many are using social media platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp to expand their reach and engage with the HR community more frequently and at pace.
However, as the lockdown continues, we all miss the warmth of face to face human interaction, and the absence of 'real life' networking creates a longing for a return to the days when you could mingle with friends old and new over a glass or two of wine and a well-chosen canape.
At the London HR Connection we have had to suspend live events (although our optimism has led us to publish details of our June event on our website, let’s see). Our last event in early March was already starting to see the early impact of COVID-19 pre lockdown, with attendance numbers lowered.
We have resisted the drive to follow the crowd and host online webinars in the belief that we will be better prepared to run a series of compelling live events once the lockdown lifts and there will be a pent up demand for face to face networking. Humans are essentially social creatures, and whilst the online world does serve a very valuable purpose, it’s still no substitute for real life interaction.
Despite the obvious and very real benefits and advantages that online communications are delivering today, we know that face-to-face networking – in an approved format – will be crucial moving forward in the ‘new normal’ that is today’s confused and uncertain world.
With many people chasing the same opportunities, valuable contacts can make all the difference and just can’t be replicated in their entirety online. Not only can face-to-face networking create opportunities to sell a product or service, or even secure future employment it also provides an opportunity to share invaluable experiences and ideas.
For those working in small organisations, networking can provide a lifeline of support, information and expertise giving you the opportunity to share issues and concerns and perhaps provide some solutions. Working in small organisations or teams can sometimes become quite isolating and it can become easy to lose focus and direction.
Networking is becoming increasingly more strategic and sophisticated. A skilled networker is recognised as a more ‘rounded’ employee – someone who can tap into their network for specialist knowledge, pursue new business leads, gather market intelligence, source new strategic alliances and raise the profile of their organisation.
Networking is all about developing long-term relationships for mutual gain and creating a lasting impression with people so that they think of you positively when an opportunity arises. Once learned, networking is a life skill which has many applications. Most commonly, people use networking to develop new business, generate leads or, indeed, find a new job. In the context of HR, networking has the following benefits:
Within an organisation is can raise your profile, source new project opportunities, strengthen relationships with stakeholders and gather information on their HR requirements
Networking externally with HR peers – exchange best practice knowledge, learn new HR methods, source inspiration for an HR issue, benchmark performance or even find a new job
And by meeting executives or suppliers, you can stay abreast of latest business news, do your own head-hunting/talent spotting, gain expertise and knowledge of competitor issues
Networking is synonymous with the term ‘working a room’ – however it is not about rapidly working your way through huge quantities of people, dishing out business cards in a desperate bid to make a ‘sale’. It takes time to develop a two-way dialogue and truly understand the needs of others and so results do not happen overnight.
In these exceptional times, however, and in response to a significant need across the HR community, I am personally hosting weekly online small discussion groups, working on real business challenges and providing opportunities for senior HR people who are not currently working (or have been furloughed) to help those who are in substantive roles.
This initiative is completely free of charge to participants, and has the benefit of providing advice and support to those who really need it (HR leaders in the healthcare sector for example). Participants include practitioners across multiple sectors, both permanent and interim. Not quite the same as face to face interaction, but probably as close as you can get.
Craig McCoy is an interim HR director, consultant and chair of the London HR Connection.