In the past 18 months, the digital workforce has undergone nothing short of a revolution. Working from home, which may have only been an option for the IT industry, was previously considered a means to an end or only for specialized situations in most industries. The work-from-home situation became the norm for many millions of workers across varying industries overnight. With such a drastic shift in the geography of the workplace, all manner of technology has been required to ease the transition, from Zoom meetings to virtual happy hours. What has sprung from this need are innovative solutions and new possibilities for all companies to take advantage of. Even as some businesses have begun the reopening process with updated risk management plans, remote work has been elevated to a permanent mainstay or at the very least a likely backup for many employees. Basically, it’s safe to say that remote work, in some form, is here to stay. Rather than viewing this as an unwelcome burden, companies should feel empowered to make the most of the possibilities that come along with this greater flexibility.

Virtual Networking

In addition to its effect on in-office policies and workplace culture, remote work also impacts networking opportunities. For many businesses, such as sales and B2B, networking is a huge part of building the connections and partnerships that ultimately lead to growth and revenue. At first, it seemed dire that in-person meetings would have to be avoided for some time. However, while nothing will fully replace the situations that require face-to-face meetings, virtual networking has emerged as a great alternative to the traditional wine and cheese corporate event. At the simplest level, it’s much easier for people to join a virtual call than to get into a car and commute. But more importantly, many new companies have formed to assist with making your virtual networking endeavor a success, potentially even more so than in-person events. These are not your grandmother’s Skype video calls!

Companies such as Gather Town and Mystery Coffee make it their mission to rethink virtual spaces to enhance coworking and networking opportunities. At Gather, video calls are integrated into an online map, simulating what it’s like to walk up to someone in the office or at a networking function and engage in conversation. Users can customize their own spaces for offices, including conference rooms and break areas for more casual chatting. If you want to plan a networking event yourself, you can create a place all your own for attendees to inhabit – a welcome departure from the traditional “screen full of faces in squares” seen on most video calls. At Mystery Coffee, the goal is to purposefully match up employees across sectors for meetings that may not otherwise happen, fostering collaboration while thinking outside of a silo-mentality. Both companies are great examples of the innovation possible in these new digital surroundings.

Planning and Marketing Your Own Hybrid or Virtual Event

Regardless of which path your company chooses for virtual networking, there are some useful tips to follow for anyone new to more consistent and interpersonal online communication. While being active on social media may give you a leg up on understanding the technology behind these newer processes, there are of course certain key differences between personal social media use and professional networking. Similarly, the differences between in-person and online networking make preparation and organization necessary for success.

For starters, while shooting a quick email or commenting on a post can take place according to your schedule when people take time out of their day to log in to your event, you want to make sure it’s structured to allow for optimization of their time. Set a clear goal for the event so that it attracts the right people – it could be for all attendees to meet at least 2 new contacts or for a presenter to get time to field questions – and let that guide the structure. For instance, if you’d like to encourage smaller 2- or 3-person conversations rather than a larger group discussion, make sure that the platform you choose can support those logistics, and test it out ahead of time in the house to avoid issues on the day of. Some of the best platforms for online-only or a hybrid of digital and physical, include Hopin and AirMeet.

While cyberspace is infinite, it’s still necessary to consider your guest list before sending out a massive email marketing campaign for a virtual or hybrid event. Start by segmenting your email list and conducting targeted outreach–however it makes sense in your organization’s context. You may want to consider segmented lists with relevant messaging, for example, a segmented list for sponsor partners might include a personal letter from the CEO. Another list might be for prospective speakers, another for attendees, and another for media partners, and so on. Be sure to build up the hype, excitement, and anticipation for big events months in advance. This can be achieved by making on-brand marketing collateral (e.g. graphics and media that follows brand style guidelines) and a short communications toolkit accessible to coworkers so they can help spread the word to build excitement and anticipation. Lastly, as many people are in front of their screens all day already, virtual events can blend together. Make yours memorable by following up with a personalized email or text–being detailed yet brief is a winning combination.

Make It Work for You

Change is always difficult to some degree, and some might feel discouraged by virtual marketing, whether due to a lack of technological savvy or access to events. This is why finding the right virtual networking agency is so important to guide your thinking and make the most of the resources available to you and tailor your virtual endeavors to your business’ or career’s needs. Taking part in a changing tide is the hallmark of a successful, forward-thinking company. Every change is a new opportunity for progress and growth. Don’t let the lack of in-person meetings get you down, let the new wave of virtual networking wake you up.