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Networking is a crucial part of any professional's working life. Investing time in networking pays off via professional relationships that have the potential to expand your knowledge, enhance your skills and support your career.

Networking activity boosts job satisfaction, personal growth and career success; for entrepreneurs, it increases the likelihood of growing their firms. Yet opportunities to connect with other professionals plummeted during the pandemic, affecting both the physical dynamics of networking and the motivation to do it.

A new, inward focus

In a recent survey of over 5000 employees, McKinsey and Co found that over three-quarters of people were connecting with others less frequently since the pandemic. If they were making professional connections, they had smaller networks and spent less time deliberately trying to build relationships than before the pandemic.

Though the restrictions that made face-to-face networking impossible during the pandemic have been eased in many countries, only 24 per cent of survey participants said that they were spending time resurrecting old contacts. A similarly low percentage said they were attempting to build new relationships.

McKinsey's research highlighted an 'inward' focus: the post-pandemic habit of maintaining connections with close associates rather than building new relationships or maintaining weaker ties. While this makes some sense, it's a less than effective networking strategy, since weak connections can often help us more than people whom we're strongly bonded with.

Gender difference

Another interesting insight from McKinsey's research is the imbalance in findings across genders. While one-third of men were "getting in touch with old contacts, building new relationships, and strengthening existing ones" post-pandemic, only a quarter of women were doing the same. This is likely to have an impact on women's career prospects, since professional networks can provide access to private information (like news of promotion or job opportunities) and new knowledge and skills (like new thinking or advice around best practice).

So, what can you do if your networking activity has slumped since the start of the pandemic? Though there are many networking activities you could focus on, one of the easiest ways to get back into the habit of networking is to re-establish links with past contacts. Research by Daniel Levin at Rutgers Business School has shown that reconnecting with 'dormant contacts' is more efficient than seeking out new connections because you're not expending effort to find and get to know them. Plus, the feelings of trust and shared perspectives that forged a connection in the first place are likely to persist so these old contacts will be pleased to hear from you and willing to provide any support you need.

When you're ready to get more stuck into finding brand new contacts, your old connections can be really useful too; perhaps they might introduce you to some of their contacts, helping you over the first hurdle of networking: finding new people you don't already know. As McKinsey says, we're no longer in a world where workplace relationships "just happen". In a post-pandemic world we need to seek out connections and manage networking activity like any other work process.

Anna Faherty is an author for accountingcpd. To see her courses, click here.

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