• Ellen Gardner

Making connections within your four walls

As the world shut down in 2020, we could either accept the grim reality of not meeting new people or embrace the potential of online connections. Those new connections have sustained and enlightened me.

Home has always been our haven, the place where we let down after a long day, spend hours in the kitchen mastering a new recipe, flake out in front of the TV, and read ourselves to sleep from the comfort of bed. Welcome to a drastic remodelling of our world, thanks to a little virus called COVID. Home is now the place where we do everything! That other stuff is still there, but this year working, learning and socializing was thrown into the home fires mix.

Like many of us, I approached the completely online world with trepidation. My teaching is done in a classroom; I talk to clients face-to-face; I go into an office to do podcast interviews. How would this new life work and could I do it? Well, in a word yes. Of course. I didn’t really have a choice.

In many ways, online teaching and counselling poses real challenges – mostly because you can’t see your audience (people do not like turning their cameras on!) and the subtle nuances of communication (body language, facial expressions, immediate feedback) are lost.

“Meet people where they are”

But what I’ve learned through the shift of all my work activities to online platforms is that it has amazing potential and opportunities. In fact, since people are at home glued to their computers for long stretches of the day, there are more opportunities than ever to connect. Comfort with social media platforms definitely helps, but anyone who intensified their efforts to, as my friend Philip put it, “meet people where they are” was rewarded many times over.

If you lost your job this year or have been job searching, the same principles apply. While resumes and cover letters are still required, I’m more convinced than ever that networking is an essential way to connect you to job openings and advice.

The best place to start is LinkedIn. Once you have a profile you’re comfortable with – and no one’s is perfect, just get it done and consider it a work in progress – you can start to network from the comfort of your desk or dining room table. Where to start?

  • LinkedIn is very intuitive and will point you in the direction of professional associations in your field. Those associations will connect you with job openings and advice. This year I attended (for free) many business communications webinars offered through my professional association, IABC, and I frequently interact with colleagues from the association.

  • The hidden job market is alive and well – and the best way to access it is by researching companies that interest you. Don’t just look for job postings. Reach out to people who work for the company and ask if you could have a quick conversation. Follow that company on LinkedIn and keep reading about them.

  • Stay active on LinkedIn by reading your newsfeed – maybe not every day, but 3-4 times a week – and ‘like’, ‘comment’ and ‘share’ those posts that interest you. Try posting an article on something that impressed you. The more active you are on LinkedIn, the more you’ll get noticed.

Connecting is easy and quick

Once I got over my initial shyness about approaching strangers, meeting new people was surprisingly easy. In a year of isolation, I made some incredible connections: a fellow writer who gives writing workshops in Dallas, we connected over our disdain for jargon and he’s agreed to guest lecture at one of my webinars; an addictions counsellor who gave a fascinating talk to my Community Service Worker students; and a recruiter who provided valuable insights to my employment assistance strategies class and is now a touchstone on job search issues.

Those connections are not just meaningful, they’re quick (no more small talk around the coffee urn at a conference).

As we venture gingerly and hopefully into a new year, why not make a pact with yourself – that you’re going to reach out to at least one new person every week. You may not need that network now, but there’s a strong possibility you will at some point. And remember, this isn’t just for you. At a time when kindness matters more than ever, you might be in a good position to help someone else.

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