For those of us who like to control our environments and our schedules, working from home may be, far and away, the best thing since sliced bread. Working from home gives you the sort of freedom, flexibility, and control that you simply don’t get to enjoy when you work in an office.
The lack of a stressful commute and the ability to work in your yoga pants from time to time is like the cherry on top.
But every situation comes with drawbacks. One of the biggest downsides of working from home? A lack of communication and interaction with real live human beings. While this may sound like an introvert’s dream, it presents challenges even for those of us who are perfectly happy to spend more time alone — especially when it comes to advancing our careers.
It’s Not What You Know…
The old saying is often true in the professional world. It’s not what you know, but WHO you know, that can make all the difference when searching for a job, progressing up the corporate ladder, or hunting for new clients and opportunities. And when you work from home by yourself, regularly getting face time with both important and new people isn’t always easy.
Before you start questioning how wonderful working from home is after all, know that you still have plenty of options for networking. Get started with these five ways to make new connections:
Taking the initiative to get out there and interact with people is the biggest thing you can do to successfully network when you work from home. Don’t sit idly by; actively seek networking events — or just events that interest you.
Join professional groups that exist in your industry or run a Google search for things like “writer’s groups in [your city].” Just replace “writer’s groups” with something that pertains to your work. Search Eventbrite or Meetup.com for local gatherings and events. You could also go by your favorite coffee shop and check out their bulletin board to check out what’s going on in general in your community.
You can even look into hosting your own events! Eric Roberge, CFP® is a financial planner and the founder of Beyond Your Hammock, located in Boston, Mass. He provides virtual financial planning services to clients around the country, and can work from anywhere. He started a series of networking events called a Night in the Hammock, and the goal of these events is to “create an environment that supports you in getting to the next level, no matter where you might be today.”
Be Social, Even from Home
Social media is a powerful tool that can make networking — even when you work remotely — easier than ever. LinkedIn, of course, is the must-use tool for any professional. But to use it effectively for networking, you need to be highly engaged. Create a killer profile and interact with others: comment on posts, share articles, and endorse and recommend who you can. You can also create and publish content, and be an active participant in a few different groups.
Twitter is also a great place to network when you work from home, because it’s acceptable to reach out and connect with people you haven’t yet met or don’t know. You can follow people who interest you or who want to connect with, and communicate with them directly via @mentions, retweets, and direct messages (if they follow you, too).
Similarly, you can join online communities of people with similar interests, work, or values (or all of the above!). The Careful Cents Club, a private Facebook group for freelancers and solopreneurs, is a great example of an active community that provides great opportunities to connect with others.
Show Up at the Office from Time to Time
If you work from home but are employed by a company, regularly schedule days where you can go into the office and put in some face time. Take advantage of any chance to show up to extracurricular activities, too — head over to the annual barbecue, participate in the company softball game, and go to the holiday parties.
This will give you a chance to communicate face-to-face with your coworkers, supervisors, and anyone else you want to build stronger professional relationships with.
And if you’re self-employed, or work with a completely virtual team? Try going into a coworking office space instead.You can meet fellow entrepreneurs or virtual staff members and share ideas, collaborate on projects, or just support each other day-to-day. This is a great way to learn about events you may not have known about, and meet new people.
Create a Mastermind Group
This may be a step removed from actual networking, if “networking” means making new connections with people you haven’t met before. A mastermind group is a collective of people who are in a similar industry or field. Groups are usually made up of about four people, and you can meet anywhere from once a week to once a month, in person or virtually.
The purpose of the group is to support each other in your work, help work through problems, brainstorm new solutions, and generally advance each member beyond where they could have gotten on their own. Creating groups like these allow you to build strong bonds with a few key people, and connects you to their networks. This is a valuable way to add to your own, as it provides an opportunity to access an entirely new group you may not have been able to build on your own.
Always Be Ready to Network
Some of the best networking opportunities crop up when you least expect them. Be prepared! Always carry a few business cards with you, and make sure you have a solid elevator pitch ready to roll should conversations ever turn to what you do.
It is possible to network when you work from home. Take the initiative and get out there — you never know when you’ll make valuable connections who can help take your career to the next level.