With associations adding more remote and hybrid workers, ensuring coworkers feel connected is often top of mind. 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 work, networking with colleagues, particularly if the organization is distributed across multiple locations, can be hard. 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 guidance for any virtual event, and its principles are prime for organizational events. Arianna Rehak, CEO of Matchbox Virtual Media, who co-created the Virtual Events Incubator on which the report is based, said virtual networking practices in the report are already being used in workplaces.
She is working with a 200-person organization that went remote during the pandemic and now wants to ensure its employees don’t lose their connection or the workplace culture. They have turned to virtual networking to help.
“We’re working together on helping them build an event that is designed to kind of reinvigorate to the mission—to remind people why they do the work they do and the importance that it has,” Rehak said. “And we want to encourage relationships among the different employees, so that, over time, the relationships will strengthen.”
Keys for Successful Virtual Networking
One of the primary factors needed for effective virtual networking events is to clearly articulate its purpose.
“When people come in with a sense of purpose, and everything is very consistent with that purpose, then they are way more likely to engage meaningfully with it,” Rehak said. “The other reason understanding the purpose of the gathering helps is it makes the individual decisions as an organizer around it easier.”
Rehak offered an example of how the purpose can affect the decisions about the event.
“If the purpose of your event is to spark relationships with mentors and mentees, well one-to-one is probably best,” she said. “You know, maybe you do a speed dating type thing where the individuals are meeting for just a few minutes at a time. That might be a very different design than an event where the purpose is you know a fun way to decompress at the end of a long conference.”
In addition to having a purpose in mind and communicating that purpose, it’s important to set the tone for the networking events. “We were very, very intentional in our communications to spark the emotions that we wanted people to feel toward the event,” Rehak said. “We wanted people to feel a sense of joy and like we were going on an exploration together.”
One way that Rehak achieved this was by asking questions of the group. Fun questions or fun facts can set a fun tone. In Rehak’s case, the fun bits were typically offered along with mundane, logistical details that were important to the functioning of the networking event.
“There was certain information that people needed in order to participate that day, but we always made it really fun around that so that it was actually joyful to read,” she said.
Asking questions of staff as you’re designing the networking event can also help organizations better understand what staff hope to gain from it. For example, Rehak sent out some pre-event questions for that organization looking to better connect its remote workers.
“The first question we asked: What are you most excited about in attending?” Rehak said. “There were four options. Some of them were related to the specific content, but the one that overwhelmingly got the highest response was that people were excited to celebrate successes with their peers. That’s great information to know, because we can make sure that is heavily emphasized in the event.”
Virtual networking events also work well when they’re a series. “Our incubator was actually a good example of this because we had several gatherings over time,” Rehak said. “That turned out to be a really powerful model because the group over time started to connect in a deeper way.”
Having people connect is important, specifically if you’re doing something like a mentoring program. In that instance, she said, an organization may even want to encourage additional communication. “You may encourage them to decentralize their communications,” Rehak said. “So maybe they are meeting up outside of that, one-on-one, once per month, let’s say, or once per week. It keeps that connection going by encouraging continued touchpoints that aren’t as big of a deal as an event”
What experience has your association had with virtual networking events? Share in the comments.