When you think of networking, the image that may come to mind first is shaking hands and filling up a small plate with cheese and crackers at a networking event. For some, this type of networking comes naturally. For others, networking of this kind can be anxiety producing, yet they know that 65% to 85% of jobs are found through networking and they must find ways to connect in order to grow their careers.

For both groups, the question remains: how can I network effectively in 2020 when many companies and individuals are working remotely?

Whether you are extroverted or introverted, HBS Career Coaches Jonathan Shepherd and Lauren Murphy have good news for you: there is no reason to let Covid-19 prevent you from building professional relationships. Networking has gone virtual and it can be just as impactful as in-person events.

Taking Networking Remote

“Networking has four components: written outreach, phone calls, in-person conversations, and video calls. The only part that has been primarily removed during the pandemic is the in-person piece, which doesn’t change the equation much,” said Shepherd. “All the other ingredients stay the same.”

What this looks like in practice is reaching out to those in your current network by email to check in with them, requesting email introductions to new connections, and sending emails or LinkedIn messages to individuals you admire and want to learn more about. Then you will move that email exchange into a phone call or video call as a next step to foster the relationship.

This type of 1:1 networking is exactly what effective networking looks like. It’s personal, based on shared interests or goals, and ultimately builds connection with another person who can help you, or whom you can help, in your professional lives.

Why Virtual Networking Works

Murphy notes that the isolation and disconnectedness we are experiencing right now is exactly why professionals can and should be networking. “We are in an altered state, missing the chatter of colleagues in the office, feeling unsure about how reaching out may be received, but the HBS alumni I’ve spoken with have consistently received positive responses to their outreach.” Genuine human connection is especially welcome right now, and with diminished commutes and limited social events, some have more time now than ever to connect.

Furthermore, there is a very natural lead-in to networking conversations this year: “How are you?” Tapping into the common experience of life in 2020 is very natural and necessary as we crave connectedness. “Not many people are sincerely asking “How are you doing?” since everyone is grinding,” said Shepherd, “but we need that.” Murphy added, “When you reach out, reference that this is a strange time in our business lives, ask how their company is handling things.” These questions open the doors of conversation and build the foundation of a relationship that is not simply transactional.

Murphy also noted that networking while working remotely is actually easier than when we were all in the office because bosses and colleagues are not looking over your shoulder. This is true for you and for many of the contacts to whom you’re reaching out. “Take advantage of the freedom to have conversations and build your network,” she advised.

How to Get Started

As you plan to kickstart your virtual networking, use the resources below to set yourself up for success.

  • Review the HBS Alumni Careers website which includes tips on leveraging the HBS network.
  • Craft your outreach emails using sample templates from HBS Career & Professional Development.
  • Offer a video call or a phone call in your outreach emails. Both are effective and the choice will be appreciated by professionals who may be experiencing video fatigue.
  • Utilize the HBS Alumni Directory to find classmates and fellow alumni in your target industry/function/location.
  • Attend the HBS Global Networking Night: The Future of Work—and Managing the Impact of COVID-19 on October 20 and 21, 2020. This two-day event offers a unique opportunity for you to connect virtually with leading HBS faculty members as well as with fellow alumni in both global and local conversations.

Also, remember Shepherd’s key piece of networking advice: “Instead of asking for a job, you're asking for information. Your request is flattering; most people love to talk about themselves.” At its core, networking is about building relationships and you can and should be doing that right now to grow your career.