Without a doubt, the world of work is not the same as it was five years ago. Combine an exponential increase in the use of technology with the chaos of a global pandemic and you’ve got a recipe for workforce change — whether you like it or not.
Arguably, one of the biggest changes of this uncertain time in the world of work is the number of people working remotely. Whether it be full-time, part-time, or something very occasional, remote work, for many, has proven to have numerous benefits, including increased flexibility and decreased commute time.
However, remote work is not without its drawbacks. Remote work can sometimes feel lonely, especially if you are used to being surrounded by the hustle and bustle of a busy office. In fact, 67% of workers aged 18-34 have stated that since beginning to work remotely, they’ve found it harder to make friends and maintain relationships with work colleagues.
Additionally, those that work remotely may fear that they could be overlooked for special assignments or promotions over those in an office environment. Employers certainly wouldn’t want to miss what could be the perfect candidate for a role, just because they don’t regularly interact in person.
The solution to this is networking. Networking is certainly easier said than done. But there are a number of ways that employers can both encourage and provide opportunities for networking to their employees even though they work remotely.
There’s more to networking than just helping people move up the career ladder. By providing networking opportunities, businesses open pathways that not only benefit individuals but the business overall.
Networking is also key to professional success, with 80% of professionals saying networking is essential to their careers.
For instance, networking allows for idea sharing and development. Someone might have the beginnings of what could become a major positive change for the business but might not know the best way to execute it. This is where a network of professionals becomes an invaluable workplace tool.
Professional networking via social media has been a game-changer; allowing people to extend their network internationally without needing to travel. It also provides access to knowledge from industry experts that may have previously only been attainable by purchasing a book or attending an event.
It’s not all about the work itself though. Networking can also benefit employees’ mental health. The more people in someone’s professional network, the more people they can share experiences with. Perhaps someone on their social media network has shared a post about a struggle that others in the industry identify with, or maybe they want to vent about something frustrating in the industry.
Networking opportunities are plentiful in an office work environment. But what exactly can employers do to provide those same opportunities to employees that work remotely?
If the idea of adding someone you’ve never met in person to all your social media accounts in the name of networking feels daunting, you’re not alone. But don’t worry, as there are ways to avoid this issue while still being able to participate in the collaboration potential that social media provides.
Business messaging mediums like Slack, Skype for Business, and Microsoft Teams are well worth the investment for your business. They allow employees to chat with each other directly without having to begin email threads that quickly become hard to follow.
Want to get feedback from meeting participants without the pressure of having to respond immediately? Or maybe you’re looking for a way for people in a specific group to participate in discussions without anyone outside that group interrupting? Messaging programs designed for business answer these networking questions and plenty more.
These professional chat threads don’t necessarily have to be related to work either. They could be focussed on interests like sport and music or even be a place to share photos of pets (who doesn’t want to see adorable animal pictures during their workday?!). While those topics likely don’t directly relate to any work being done, talking about these things can act as icebreakers for discussion that can lead to both professional relationships and friendships. Friendship, even over distance, is key to helping remote workers to avoid loneliness.
People who currently work remotely but previously worked in an office might fondly remember the general workplace chatter that goes on while working. Often, it’s during this general workplace chatter that some of the best ideas emerge. For remote workers, this is where virtual coworking sessions can be extremely valuable.
Employers can bring these opportunities to their remote workers by actively encouraging them to join a virtual room for a dedicated period. This doesn’t necessarily mean they have to complete work tasks as a team. It can be as simple as a team enjoying each other’s company despite any physical distance, while completing work independently.
No matter the industry, many of us are exhausted at the end of a busy work week. By turning a virtual coworking session into a virtual happy hour, employers are encouraging discussions that don’t focus on work. Remote work can sometimes cause the lines between work and life to blur. Having a virtual happy hour encourages employees to switch off when necessary and shows that the company values work-life balance.
Business conferences where attendees can hear from experts about significant industry updates are nothing new. Where previously they might have exclusively been held in major cities, which required expensive travel, the exponential rise of online technology has meant that many business events are now live streamed online. Essentially, anyone can attend!
By encouraging remote workers to attend webinars, employers are providing their employees with communication channels that may never have been opened otherwise. It also encourages a love of learning which is one of the greatest qualities employers can instil in their employees. A love of learning benefits not only the individual but the business overall.
When people are relaxed around their colleagues and industry peers, they start to feel more comfortable in the workplace in general. Moreover, they’re more likely to seek advice from or share ideas with workplace peers when they feel the risk of being judged is low. Idea sharing and development is the primary goal of networking.
When employers make a noticeable effort to provide networking opportunities for remote workers, it increases the likelihood of new and innovative ideas. It also helps remote employees to feel valued at work, despite the fact they may not interact with colleagues in person. Ultimately, employees who feel valued and heard are more likely to produce their best work.