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By Traci Rosenthal
In the COVID-19 era, one can feel that they are lacking real-life, in-person interactions. However, the term social distancing is misleading because, in reality, we are only being encouraged to keep our physical distance. Thus, whether it be via video chat, text message or phone conversation, virtual socialization with our friends, families, and colleagues can help us feel connected and less secluded during isolation.
Earlier this month, Bernstein Faculty Leader and David W. Zalaznick Associate Professor of Business, Dan Wang, led a virtual workshop titled Learning to Leverage Your Network, an event co-sponsored by The Bernstein Center and Leadership Lab as part of the Leadership Co-Curricular Series under the auspices of The Reuben Mark Initiative for Organizational Character and Leadership. The online session, which felt interactive despite the social distance, covered the ins and outs of networking, and then quickly pivoted to the struggles of connecting in the COVID-19 era. While we are temporarily unable to create opportunities and build relationships utilizing physical space, the basics of networking still stand and simply need to be adapted to fit the current situation.
In fact, Professor Wang noted that “networking in the ‘lockdown’ era is more important than ever.” Now is the time to hone in on your skills so you can avoid feeling anxious, awkward, or even intimidated, in situations where networking is top of mind. Think of it as a necessary exchange in the business world—the top 10% of successful managers spend 70% more time in networking interactions than the bottom 90% of managers.
Here are a few tips to get you started.
Enact the 3 “Rs” - Research, Refresh, and Reach Out
Before you begin formulating your networking strategy, start by “researching yourself” to understand who makes up your network. Start with a Networking Assessment on gleam.org, a free proprietary tool developed by faculty members at Columbia Business School. This in-depth assessment allows you to visualize and analyze your network’s connection points and characteristics. Next, is the refresh step—reconnect with your “weak ties,” or those you have lost touch with over the previous months or years. This uncertain time provides an opportunity to re-connect with “cool” contacts in order to check in on their well-being and spark a sincere conversation. Nurturing these bonds will not only prove lucrative in the future, but help establish good mental health and confidence, which is something we all need a boost of right now.
And, once you have combed through your network and contacted old friends or past professional connections, it’s time to grow your network by reaching out. Professor Wang suggests either focusing on breadth—meeting a diversity of new people—or depth—getting to know fewer people on a deeper level. Decide what your network currently requires and explore that avenue accordingly.
Utilize Virtual Networking Platforms
So, how exactly are you able to perform the 3 “Rs” in the time of COVID? Professor Wang offers up virtual platform suggestions that can help you grow your network in breadth and depth. He also explains that these social options can serve as spaces to practice being a mentor and learning as a mentee.
- Bumblebizz (breadth): A social platform from the creators of the dating app Bumble, this networking tool quickly connects you with a diversity of other professionals in your area.
- Lunchclub (depth): After sharing information about your background, interests and goals, you alert the platform when you desire to make a new connection. Unlike Bumble, which offers you a variety of potential connections, Lunchclub will match you, based on your shared criteria, with a single 1:1 video meeting per week.
- One Up One Down (mentor): Join this platform to become a mentor and practice giving professional advice while connecting in a meaningful way.
- Thinkful (mentee): This site is dedicated to those looking to learn more about careers in data, coding, product management, and digital market through 1-on-1 mentor guidance and career coaching.
As we all navigate this crisis, one thing has become abundantly clear: it is a vital time to connect with each other and stay social. Seize this moment to work through the physical roadblocks of networking and take this time to recognize, appreciate and expand your network.
 Calculations based on data from 457 executives gathered from Columbia Business School’s GLeaM Network Assessment survey platform.
 Granovetter, M.S. 1973. “The Strength of Weak Ties.” American Journal of Sociology. 78(6): 1360-80.
 Levin, D.Z., Walter, J. and Murnighan, J.K. 2011. “Dormant ties: The value of reconnecting.” Organization Science. 22(4):923-39.
Walter, J., Levin, D.Z. and Murnighan, J.K. 2015. “Reconnection choices: Selecting the most valuable (vs. most preferred) dormant ties.” Organization Science. 26(5): 1447-65.