Networking

by Heather White

Networking for home workers

Personally, I love working from home. Yes, it does have its drawbacks, but the benefits far outweigh the cons. However, it has to be said that home working does not suit everyone, so it’s important to test-drive the way of working first.

The ideas and thoughts I will present here are musts and don’ts. Having worked from home as part of a virtual team for ten years, I know exactly what needs to be done to make sure my profile stays visible and I continue to bring in the bacon.

I will cover the following:

  • How to keep your visibility high, both internally and externally
  • How to do virtual social interaction
  • How to dovetail virtual networking and face-to-face networking.

The tools

The tools you need for this type of networking include:

  • Focus
  • Discipline
  • Knowing your own preferred way(s) of communication
  • Knowledge/understanding preference models so you understand other people’s ways of communication
  • Learning/knowing how to communicate through the written word
  • Keeping your list of contacts pinned on your office wall – front of mind!

OK, let’s get to it.

First set of questions

Have you completed the section How to get started? If yes, carry on. If no, are you clear about what you want your networking to achieve? If yes, carry on. If no, stop here and read How to get started first, otherwise some of this section may not make much sense.

Second set of questions

Example

If you were communicating with me, I would want all factual and useful stuff done by email. Trust and deeper relationships stuff should be done through face-to-face meetings.

  • What media can be used to network virtually (see list below)?
  • Which ones do you currently/mostly use?
  • Could you use different approaches?
  • Which media would your contacts prefer?

Media available

These days, there’s a wide range of media available to those of us who work from home:

  • Conference calls
  • Personal calls
  • MS Messenger or other Instant Message applications
  • Emails
  • Stuff in post
  • Texting
  • The internet, including LinkedIn, Myspace, Facebook and so on
  • The intranet – for example, online forums, your home page.

Obviously you will connect with your contacts in the following three ways (placed in order of probability):

  1. Visual – reading your words
  2. Audio – listening to your voice
  3. In person – when you meet up.

Therefore...

Rule 1

Get good at communicating effectively through the written word (you might want to look at the topic on Business Writing). Now think on this:

  • Take a blended approach and create a variety of reasons for communicating (see The follow-up)
  • How much time does your contact have to read anything you send them?
  • Reflect your reader’s preferences – for example, are they a big picture person; are they into concepts or detail; do they like bullet points?
  • The trick is not too much and not too little (and no, there are no fixed rules for this, you have to gauge what you think is enough).

Rule 2

Create your own distinctive writing style: for example, pacey, direct, humorous, bottom line first or helpful. Remember you are aiming to achieve a thought in the other person’s head – something along the lines of ‘Oh, an email from Heather; should be good/interesting/fun.’

Rule 3

Voice – now here is a subject all on its own (you might at some stage take a look at the topic on Voice Skills); however, for the moment, think on these things and practise, practise, practise:

  • Men’s voices are lower than women’s – fact! Women, practise keeping your voice in a lower octave
  • Conference calls – love them or hate them... or just too many of them, whatever! They are important, so do these things:
  • Stay focused
  • Ask questions
  • Animate your voice so that people enjoy listening to you
  • Be helpful
  • Add to the conversation; confirm your agreement; make suggestions; show interest
  • It is very rude and inappropriate to do any of the following:
  • Do MSM or texting during the call – I don’t care how boring it is
  • Hog the air time
  • Be a smarty pants – brown nosing is not nice to witness.

Rule 4

You can never replace face-to-face interaction with other forms of contact as this is still a premium currency. Remember the adage – people buy from people first. When you are going to the office, try some of these approaches:

  • Attend master classes given by your management
  • Attend staff association events, such as women’s groups, ethnic groups and so on
  • Always have lunch with a small group of contacts
  • Book 15 minutes with your line manager and or whoever is the next level up
  • If you have volunteered for a project, meet your virtual team/line manager
  • Go off site sometimes (environment permitting), as this can be more intimate and informal/relaxing
  • Think before you meet – what can you take with you that might add some value
  • Think before you meet – what is the lasting brand/message you want them to remember you by?
  • Think before you meet – what questions do you want to ask?

Rule 5

Read intranet sites, e-zines and other in-house magazines and make your thoughts known.

Rule 6

Make it easy to be found on the internet and intranet. Do you have a home page or your own site? Are you on LinkedIn, Facebook and so on and are you submitting articles to web sites?

Rule 7

Jeff Bezos, CEO Amazon, says ‘a brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room’. This is especially true for home workers and others who must use virtual networking.

There are four stages to this tip.

  1. What do you want people to say behind your back?
  2. What are they already saying?
  3. What is the gap?
  4. If it is not what you want, how can you change it?

To find out what people are saying about you, try one of the following suggestions.

  • Does your company use a 360 degree assessment programme? You can normally find out through HR.
  • Otherwise, go to ten of your key contacts and ask these questions: ‘Because I trust and respect your opinion, I would really appreciate it if you could consider the following and send me your thoughts. What do you see as my talents and abilities, and what characteristics describe me? What am I good at? How do I do things? What you count on me for, and is there anything that impresses you about who I am? Uniqueness in the business world is important and it would be very useful to know your thoughts... on me. (Blush!)’

Rule 8

I think a lot about those on whom I want to make an impact and within that mindset I do one thing every day: it is called a PiF, which stands for Pass it Forward.

I encourage my contacts to send me useful things so that I can re-circulate them and add value to my other contacts. These contacts include clients, suppliers and colleagues, so I think about both internal and external networking. Obviously, you need to follow any commonsense rules here, such as confidentiality, recognition of the sender and so on.

Rule 9

Research if there are any business forums in your geographical area that you could join. Working away from the team is difficult and what most people miss is the support and friendship of a real person. So find this connection instead within your local business community. There are thousands of these around the country, in every town.

I bet your professional membership body will have a group local to you that probably meets monthly. Perhaps you might consider expanding your knowledge about the industry you work in, so don’t just stick to your peer group. Maybe you could join a special interest group or a social responsibility forum