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I’ve grown to believe that networking is the lifeblood of career success. However, working from home requires us to lean on virtual connections instead of physical ones common in the office. So, how can we rebuild our work relations and forge new ones in 2022?

If you’ve noticed your network shrinking, you’re not alone. Harvard Business Review released shocking statistics on how the pandemic affected our close relationships. After five months without an in-person gathering, feelings of connection and closeness between friends plummet by 80%.

Now, imagine your professional relationships. A Yale study revealed a reduced network size of roughly 16% in 2021, or more than 200 people during the pandemic.

For many of us, pre-2020, we used events and conferences as a forum to meet new business connections, develop business opportunities and facilitate powerful introductions. The events industry went through a pandemic-induced technology boom, with hundreds of new software options hitting the market that assist with the networking aspect of virtual events. However, virtual events have not quite filled the void of in-person networking.  

You’ll have to get creative if you want to boost your contact list this year. The question is, how do women leaders at the top of their field build and maintain strong professional networks while working from home? I reached out to four highly successful women leaders to find out.

Pay It Forward

One of the most powerful ways to develop new connections is being a virtual matchmaker and paying it forward to someone in your network whom you highly respect. 

“Earlier this year, I focused on using my social platforms to spread recognition and impactful stories,” said Quyen Chang, Global Head of Revenue Enablement at Airbnb. “In March, during Women’s History Month, I shared daily appreciation posts of amazing women. Each day, I shared a story of gratitude to women who have impacted me. I am beyond lucky to have some of the best role models in my work and personal life.”

She encouraged those in her network to connect with the women she featured, and the effect spurred hundreds of new connections. Moreover, the campaign inspired similar movements throughout her network and beyond. 

Build Trust Slow And Steady

April Hicke, Director of Product Operations at ATB Financial, started her new role in 2021, in the middle of the pandemic. This situation made it even more challenging to make new connections. “Studies show it takes three times as long to build connections virtually,” April shared. “As we say goodbye to the days of office chit-chatting and mingling, we have to be present, vulnerable, and intentional about creating time and space for our network.”

What does it mean? Whether you may be starting a role at a new company or simply trying to develop new connections, April believes it’s critical to look at virtual networking as a long-haul game. Otherwise, you risk getting lost in the sea of invitations to connect. What works for me is learning more about the person before adding them on LinkedIn. Dive into their recent posts. Engaging with them directly before clicking the “connect” button works wonders. 

Think Beyond Borders

Before the pandemic halted Carmen Bryant‘s hectic travel schedule, she often lamented about missing certain events in her home city of New York. “Being remote has truly globalized networking,” says Carmen, Director of US Marketing at Indeed.com. “I’ve expanded and stretched my network in less laborious ways than before the pandemic.” 

Those in more remote regions have also benefited from the globalization of networking through online events. Personally, I live two hours outside of a major city with two small children. Even before the pandemic, attending networking events in person had become more and more difficult. The normalization of virtual networking allowed me to double the size of my network in the past two years.

Choose Virtual Events Designed For Networking

Prior 2020, virtual networking was not a popular or common way to meet like-minded professionals. However, these events have grown in popularity in the last years.

“One of the ways to find new connections is through membership communities,” said Natalie Taylor, Senior Lead, Learning Strategy & Operations at Shopify. “These organizations take all the guesswork out of networking and provide a safe space and platform for connections to happen naturally.”

To build quality connections, it’s essential to seek international forums and virtual events where networking is facilitated — events people attend intending to build connections. More than two-thirds of virtual attendees go to an event intending to learn versus network, so select events that call out the opportunity to build your network. Be mindful of the variety of virtual events and choose one that meets your objective to network. 

Seek Connections Through Volunteering

Companies serious about developing and retaining their top talent must consider how they can best support their employees. This includes opportunities to establish new connections to maintain a healthy network during the pandemic. A healthy and supportive community should be considered an essential part of professional development, especially to ensure the career advancement of remote workers. 

Companies can also support their employees’ volunteer experience. These contributions allow like-minded individuals to connect based on their passions and interests.

“Some of the best connections I’ve built were by seeking out volunteer opportunities and events with boards, committees, and organizations that align with your values,” says April Hicke. 

In 2022, building your network won’t necessarily come naturally (or easily, for that matter). Still, engaging and utilizing some of these suggestions will result and form valuable and authentic relationships. 

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