With associations adding more remote and hybrid workers, making sure coworkers feel connected is often a priority. Best practices in virtual networking can be used to help internal teams better connect for mentoring and more.
With many organizations adopting hybrid or remote working, networking with colleagues, especially if the organization is spread across multiple locations, can be difficult. A new report offers best practices for virtual networking events that can be applied to help organizational culture and connectivity.
Host your own meaningful networking events [PDF] shares tips for any virtual event, and its principles are paramount for organizational events. Arianna Rehak, CEO of Matchbox Virtual Media, which co-created the virtual event incubator on which the report is based, said the virtual networking practices outlined in the report are already in use in the workplace.
She works with a 200-person organization that went remotely during the pandemic and now wants to make sure her employees don’t lose their connection or the workplace culture. They have turned to virtual networks to help them.
âWe’re working together to help them create an event designed to reinvigorate the mission – to remind people why they do the job they do and how important it is,â said Rehak. “And we want to encourage relationships between different employees, so that over time, relationships grow stronger.”
Keys to a Successful Virtual Network
One of the main factors needed for effective virtual networking events is to clearly articulate its purpose.
âWhen people come in with a specific goal and everything is very consistent with that goal, then they’re much more likely to commit to it in a meaningful way,â Rehak said. âThe other reason why understanding the purpose of the gathering is useful is that it facilitates individual decisions as the organizer around it. “
Rehak gave an example of how goal can affect decisions about the event.
âIf the purpose of your event is to build relationships with mentors and mentees, face-to-face is probably the best,â she said. âYou know, maybe you do a speed dating type thing where people meet for a few minutes at a time. This could be a very different take on an event where the goal is for you to know a fun way to unwind at the end of a long conference.
In addition to having a goal in mind and communicating that goal, it’s important to set the tone at networking events. âWe were very, very intentional in our communications to elicit the emotions that we wanted people to feel about the event,â said Rehak. “We wanted people to feel a sense of joy and as if we were exploring together.”
One way for Rehak to do this was to ask questions of the group. Funny questions or funny facts can set a fun tone. In Rehak’s case, the fun items were usually offered with mundane logistical details that were important to the functioning of the networking event.
âThere was some information that people needed to participate that day, but we always made it a lot of fun to make it really happy to read,â she said.
Asking staff questions as you design the networking event can also help organizations better understand what staff are hoping to get out of it. For example, Rehak sent pre-event questions to this organization seeking to better connect their remote workers.
âThe first question we asked: What are you most excited to participate in? Said Rehak. âThere were four options. Some of them were related to specific content, but the one that got overwhelmingly the most responses was that people were excited to celebrate successes with their peers. This is great information to know, as we can make sure this is strongly emphasized in the event.
Virtual networking events also work well when it comes to a series. âOur incubator was actually a good example of that because we’ve had several gatherings over time,â Rehak said. âIt turned out to be a really powerful role model because the band started to connect in a deeper way over time. “
It’s important for people to connect, especially if you’re doing something like a mentoring program. In this case, she said, an organization may even want to encourage additional communication. âYou can encourage them to decentralize their communications,â Rehak said. âSo maybe they meet outside of that, one-on-one, once a month, say, or once a week. It maintains that connection by encouraging ongoing touchpoints that are not as important as an event. “
What experience has your association had with virtual networking events? Share in the comments.