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The new world of networking – virtually

When governors across the country implemented stay-at-home orders in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses and organizations decided to pivot from in-person interactions to virtual meetings.

Zoom, WebEx, Skype and Google Hangouts have become some of the most popular forms of online video conferencing during the quarantine. But local organizers aren’t just using these platforms for work. They are also hosting networking events to create and foster connections during this period of isolation.

Amanda Zinn (Submitted photo)

Amanda Zinn, Leadership Baltimore County President and CEO. (Submitted photo)

“Professionally, as leaders, we can’t just sit back and wait until the situation changes and then figure out how we are going to revamp in our new world,” said Amanda Zinn, Leadership Baltimore County (LBC) President and CEO. “We have to make things happen in whatever way that we can.”

LBC annually hosts a 10-month community leadership program from September to June. The Class of 2020, which has 40 participants, will graduate in the fall and hopes to make up several missed in-person sessions in the summer or fall.

Part of LBC’s philosophy is to serve the community by connecting people and helping them with particular topics. The organization has been hosting virtual Leadership Lunch & Learn sessions on topics such as compassionate leadership, mental health, wellness challenges and small business. Usually programs like these are only available to alumni, but because of the pandemic LBC is offering these sessions for free to the community.

“We feel this is an opportunity for us as an organization to stand out and be a leader by helping connect and provide these resources to other people,” she said.

Zinn has participated in other organization’s virtual networking conference calls and found they are a great way to meet new people and to keep your name and your organization out there.

“They can be really quite informative and useful for not only one’s professional work but also for one’s emotional self to keep that human connection going. …This is an opportunity to gain new skills with technology which I know a lot of people have been nervous about so I think that is a great opportunity for us.”

Angela Rose (Submitted photo).

Angela Rose, Harford County Chamber of Commerce president and CEO. (Submitted photo).

Angela Rose, Harford County Chamber of Commerce’s president and CEO, notes the new world of networking is heavily influenced and based on social media platforms as well as video conferencing. The chamber has instituted several video networking events including a virtual happy hour with trivia, coffee and connections and webinars.

Officials have also hosted networking meetings using the Zoom platform, where members may give updates but also utilize the breakout room options.

“That has been wonderful because it gives a more intimate setting and people can have more one-on-one interactions and make those connections,” Rose said.

One of the most successful meetings is their general trivia on Friday afternoons.

“The goal was just to connect outside of business but really business is happening because of it and at the end of the day that is what we want,” Rose said. “It is organically happening and it is wonderful.”

Networking, even through virtual portals, provides participants with connections, keeps their name fresh in other’s minds and helps businesses stay relevant, according to Rose.

“With business being so impacted by the pandemic, business owners and employees have really had to bob and weave to figure out a new way to connect and communicate,” she said. “It is even more important now than it was, because everyone is stuck at home and really the need to connect and be successful in business is important.”

For its annual eight-month statewide management program, Leadership Maryland (LM) decided to move its 52 member Class of 2020 to next year. It also had to cancel the summer youth workshop programs held in July at Washington College.

Renee Winsky. (Submitted photo)

Renee Winsky, Leadership Maryland President and CEO. (Submitted photo)

In mid-May, LM sent out surveys to workshop students, parents and staff asking what type of virtual content they want and how they wish to receive it. Some of the questions included asking about the desire for live interactions, pre-recorded activities and how much time they have to dedicate to content.

“We want to be able to produce the right programs for the right reasons at the right time,” President & CEO Renee Winsky said. “We are really focusing on what their needs are, what they are looking for and who they want to hear from.”

Winsky has also reached out to every previous LM class, 27 in total, and asked members to consider putting together virtual happy hours or coffee hours so people may connect.

“A lot of them have already chimed in and are going to do it,” Winsky said. “… It is probably more important than ever to go back to and rely upon the networks that we have established in our lives. Everything is going to be done differently to some extent in the future and we need each other for personal growth, for emotional support, for volunteerism and just to get things done.”

Women Who Lead This article is featured in The Daily Record’s Women Who Lead: A Woman’s Guide To Business. The mission of the Women Who Lead (formerly Path to Excellence) magazine is to give our readers the opportunity to meet successful women of all ages, backgrounds and beliefs and learn how they define success. Read more from Women Who Lead.