For those people who were networking (in any shape or form) prior to the pandemic, the scene is quite different these days. The world of course is a very different place today, compared with back in 2019.
On a Micro level (what is going on in my city / town or village) probably little has changed that you can lay your finger on specifically (except for prices, worrying enough), but you don’t have to pop your head up above the parapet very far to be deluged in a whole swathe of Macro (world events) stuff, enough to stop most of us in our tracks immediately.
Big picture challenges often seem a very long way off though, and a bit like in Lord of the Rings or even Star Wars, the enemy can appear light years away, and doesn’t affect our daily lives that much (... today anyway)
Networking may offer an opportunity to speculate on world events (and our reaction to them) but much more than that it provides an ability to get together with people who live near us and have conversations. This may appear on the face of it a bit of a “lame” waste of time, why would anyone want to invest time in just meeting other random folk to talk? What on earth can anyone get out of that?
To be honest I’ve even doubted the value of going “networking” myself, when the work has piled up and I've been under a lot of pressure. The thought has crossed my mind (on copious occasions), I’m way too busy to go networking and just talk to people, I’ll skip this one and just get on with things. Only at the last minute to convince myself, “look, you said to such and such you’d be there, so be there”. Something always happens when you meet people, it is inevitable. Either you find something useful out, help someone else, introduce people, share tips and wisdom, meet someone new, maybe even do business or agree to collaborate with something… NETWORKING is NEVER a waste of time. If nothing else it expands your personal contacts, and breathes life into the community. What is a waste of time is negotiating with yourself time and time again whether it is a waste of time or not!
Since the lockdowns… and the pandemic…
Whatever your thoughts on the above, every single one of us has been affected by what happened. Apart from the direct effect of actually having the illness itself (or close loved ones), there are a myriad of other issues which really have only come to the surface since we try to return to where we were before, only to find that that place doesn’t exist anymore.
Of course the governments, buildings, businesses (many of them), communities and people in them all look the same (or similar), but there is no denying something has shifted, but what is that?
It isn’t one thing for sure, and it is probably different for every one of us. It is easy to assume that others are like us, but for sure they are not. Each of us has created in our mind a reality for ourselves… and often this is not shared (a) because we are not meeting others who are different to ourselves (b) because in the circles we tread our view might not be popular or ( c) we’re just glossing over things and trying to move on
One year after pretty much all restrictions have been removed (in England anyway) many are just emerging into the aftermath. Some are still fearful, continuing to wear masks, others mix as infrequently as possible, and yet others refrain from being in large groups or gatherings. Who can blame them? Having been told your fellow human being could bring a life threatening disease, almost overnight we are now being told that the threat no longer exists, you would be wary wouldn’t you? After all, this isn’t a light switch.
So what of Networking?
Many business networking groups have returned to previous “type”, and for many businesses, it is a tried and tested formula that is understood and so those carry on, altered in some manner, but nevertheless a friendly known entity. These groups typically managed to navigate the pandemic with online events and therefore kept contact, even when meeting in person wasn’t permissible.
For other networking where there isn’t a huge draw like “business”, it’s somewhat more tricky. The risk (however small) of going out to meet (often new people) in a crowded setting is faced with the question… why take the risk just for a conversation?
Recently I’ve spoken to people about other adverse effects of the pandemic such as apathy, lack of enthusiasm, what’s the point even, coupled all this with a propensity to be a little negative it is a recipe for failing hope, and faith in things getting better anytime soon.
Networking makes sense suddenly…
Looking back on my own experiences, often Networking for no other reason than being amongst others and listening / telling stories, being around others, “pineal gland” connections if you like, and just the buzz and optimism of being around other human beings, really is something.
Of course there is often gossip, negativity, strong opinions, in-jokes, and division, but this is why it is such a skill to run these events, and why there is change, with groups coming, and going endlessly…
Conclusion… final words
Apart from the regular list of tangible reasons to network (as suggested at the top of this piece) there really is something almost imperceptible that you can’t put your fingers on about networking. It really is a vital part of any community and its absence is likely only noticed over time… that may have begun to happen already…
I’ve heard people say, I’m really struggling to get back into things, it all seems to be a bit of a chore, where in the past they would have thought nothing of it. Of course, the time out during the pandemic gave people the chance to decide their future (almost a taste of retirement) or at least the peace and quiet to analyse what life is about and what they might like to do with their time going on from here.
It all adds up to a very different looking world… and definitely worth talking about and finding out what others are doing. There is still a huge role for getting people together on a regular basis, as it doesn’t look like the pace of change will be slowing up anytime soon.