The theme “Old Father Time” reminded me of the familiar weathervane, where Father Time is blown west or east and turns back when the wind changes. There is a lovely sameness and predictability about it. That has all flipped around a bit in a post-Covid world.
We have a need for familiarity to bring comfort and yet, unlike the weathervane, our reality in this new world is not as predictable as we all crave.
I run my own business. Unlike many of my fellow Experts, I have a procurement background and provide consultancy for businesses pitching in a formal procurement process (a slight “gamekeeper turned poacher” activity, I confess). That said, networking for work opportunities or otherwise is the same whether you are providing bid support, creative writing, or in my case, commercial advice. Certainly, BC (“Before Covid”) it was, like Father Time, a little formulaic as to how one went about it. These new communication opportunities may be familiar to you but for me, I met people at conferences or seminars – either attending or presenting – and I always planned to meet a minimum of two new people at each event. Having a coffee with someone before or after a day’s work near their offices or the station was a particular favourite as it was a great way to start or end a working day as well as beating the commuting crowds. I also used LinkedIn to comment on others’ posts or specifically write my own posts knowing that most people might read them on a train journey home. Thursdays were known as being the best day of the week for that.
Now that we are starting to get out the other side of lockdown 3.0, I have been reflecting on how conscious and unconscious signals have changed in business over the last year and how they have helped – or hindered – networking.
First impressions are delivered through a screen, as is building up knowledge of the client. I can tell you about an individual’s décor and taste in their kitchen/front room/bedroom (delete as appropriate) but how does that help me understand the culture of the company? This was normally easy to guess when being in their reception area or in a meeting room in their offices. There is now no water cooler moment when that extra nugget of information is often imparted casually. And how can you pick out a potential key contact or two amongst a sea of virtual faces at an online seminar?
I have also noticed that LinkedIn is becoming a little like Facebook with the more relaxed forms of posts: lots around home office set ups and home-schooling anxieties. People are, in general, a little more time poor. (This has been backed up by studies starting to show that working hours in the UK are creeping up for a number of us. Makes you wonder where we would put that commute in the working day now.) ‘Office’ attire is more relaxed with ‘Dress for Your Day’ (in this case sitting at home) being taken to its max and becoming much more common. All channels of communication are becoming more instantaneous and managing the bombardment of instant messaging, video calls and WhatsApp – all now used as standard for business – is a skill.
So, what have I learned that I can share here?
- Firstly, accept that children, animals, and other family members may feature unexpectedly in calls. It shows a different side to us all and can create conversation in itself: Thelma the cat has become quite renowned for attending my meetings.
- Do not expect to top and tail someone’s working day with a catch up. Assume working patterns won’t get back to pre-BC times even with loosening of the lockdown regulations. Flexibility is important but so is an understanding of differing types of circumstances.
- Be always “camera ready” both for you and for your surroundings. First impressions still count even when at home.
- Be more visible across all channels, be more organised about networking and expect it to take a little longer to develop.
- Think less about presentations, i.e. have a great story to tell, but tell it verbally. Screens are small enough without having to follow micro-scale documents.
- Expect to be more direct with your questions to gather information, especially about culture, working styles and interpersonal dynamics.
- The most important for me is if you know them at all, ask how they are faring. Everyone is dealing with this differently so spending even a few minutes just to let them download will make a huge difference.
“Ultimately, we all must reassess how we connect and adapt in this new world. Hopefully, it won’t be long before it once again becomes as familiar and predictable as the weathervane.”
This article was written by Beth Wallace.
Beth has worked in a number of sectors, starting out in aerospace manufacturing but also working in financial services, media, hospitality and legal to name a few. Her career has spanned both negotiating deals as well as managing supplier relationships, from simple projects to complex outsourcing.