📖 Book Chapter - Growing and Nurturing Your Valuable Inner Circle (Issue #25)
How to socialize in this brave new world
This is a draft of Chapter 18 from the book I’m writing, Building the Invincible You. In it, I share a framework and strategies for:
Amplifying your power in your work and life.
Regaining your freedom to spend more of your time the way you wish you could.
Building the future you want for yourself and your loved ones.
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Millions of people around the world have been working at home for the past few years. More companies are joining the ranks of those who have decided to let their employees work remotely for now, and perhaps forever. Even the employers who are asking employees to return to the office are making it a voluntary choice or only expecting people to be in a workplace 1-2 days per week.
Corporations are closing down campuses, leaving office spaces, stopping commercial real estate deals and leases, and even selling off properties.
REI is abandoning an 8-acre campus headquarters in Washington.
Pinterest is burning $90M to cancel a lease in San Francisco.
Google will eat $500 million in costs related to exiting leases to align their office space with an “adjusted global headcount.”
I think a few of us knew that this “remote work thing” wasn’t going away anytime soon. A few years ago, I was a cohost of The Brave New Workforce podcast, and we predicted that 2021 would be the tipping point. More companies will have remote workforces of globally distributed, geographically-unrestricted teams forever.
It makes great financial sense. Corporate campuses are unbelievably expensive!
It gives you access to the best talent from around the world, once you no longer restrict your search to local candidates or require relocation.
It levels the playing field and eliminates the “corporate headquarters” competitive advantage that many remote employees have experienced all too often (e.g., they receive fewer promotions than the folks sitting in the “center of power”).
It enables a better quality of life when you eliminate long commutes, can reduce your cost of living expenses, and have more time with friends and family.
I would guess that many of you reading this might be working at home right now. Even some college students are still studying at home.
However, working at home does come with some adverse side effects, especially for extroverts who miss the buzz of the office and spending time around coworkers all day. Even introverts are discovering that it makes it much harder to form and maintain relationships with people beyond your close inner circle.
Your inner circle is a wonderful thing to have, of course. This group of trusted people should be your confidants and advisors for the rest of your career and life.
However, you do need to expand beyond this tiny circle if you want to build a more extensive, powerful network that brings you new opportunities. How do you do that?
Well, traditionally, it has been through in-person activities (e.g., coffee meetings, lunches, cocktail parties, meetups, conferences, workshops, and other traditional networking events). But, that may not be an option for some people. Plus, you limit your opportunity to meet a wider range of folks if you only participate in local events.
I’ve heard questions like this from my broader community:
How do I network now without the usual venues?
How do I replicate the office “water cooler effect” that can improve team cohesion and collaboration?
How do I maintain a strong company culture if we don’t physically spend time together?
What is everyone doing to deal with the loneliness and isolation?
The good news is that several companies have been collaborating remotely for a very long time and making it work (e.g., Automattic, Basecamp, Balsamiq). So, it is possible!
I spent decades working with teams scattered all over the world. I was based in Silicon Valley, but many of my colleagues and employees were living in other cities and countries (e.g., NYC, Seattle, Chicago, the UK, Ireland, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, Japan, and India).
We made it work.
But, if you’re new to working remotely and suffering from the isolation and feeling some loneliness, my words probably provide small comfort. I know you want a solution you can put into action right now.
Here are some recommendations I hope will help you. I’ve been testing and implementing all kinds of solutions over the past few years of running my community and working with remote clients.
Frequency, intensity, and connection
One way to think about how you want to connect and reconnect with people is to map out a matrix of frequency and medium of communication. Some forms of communication (e.g., video chat) are much more intimate than others (e.g., email). You will also want to engage with some people more than others. There may be some people you’d rather not engage with at all (e.g., your boss). Sorry, I can’t help you with that! 🤣
I have friends and family all over the world. I don’t get to see people very frequently when they live far away. For the past few years, I haven’t even been able to see my local friends like I used to (e.g., meeting at a coffee shop).
So, my social interaction in this brave new remote world consists of sending texts, messages, and memes throughout the day. It’s a quick and lightweight way to stay connected, let someone know that you are thinking of them, and put a smile on someone’s face. These messages literally only take a few seconds, but it keeps the relationships active.
Other relationships fall into different points within the matrix. My current clients and my active career community require higher-levels of engagement and a more intimate connection. For example, we talk in Slack (real-time and asynchronously), have daily email exchanges, and schedule time for video chats.
Engaging with my broader professional network is a somewhat lower demand on my time. We communicate less frequently and often through less intimate channels (e.g., email or sending a message on LinkedIn).
Similarly, my broader social network requires less frequent and intense communication. You can’t engage in a personal video chat with hundreds or thousands of people every day, nor should you. Instead, we message each other occasionally or comment on each other’s posts on social media.
Think about your personal and professional goals for your friends, family, and professional network. Create a schedule of communication that is appropriate for the depth of connection and relationships you need to maintain. It’s challenging to have a powerful network if you let it go stale, and I talked about how important your network is in Chapter 14.
One of your goals may be to reduce your own sense of isolation and loneliness. How can you best do that? Who do you want to connect with more frequently?
You have to make time and schedule that now intentionally. You’re not likely to just “bump into people” as you did before when you were working in an office and spending more time out and about.
Networking and socializing
The pandemic disrupted traditional networking in 2020, but I never enjoyed the large group networking experiences anyway. It’s not great for an introvert. I’ve always been better with more intimate one-on-one discussions over coffee.
I would also rather have a chat with a small group of close friends or colleagues than try to get a word in edgewise in a massive group of people. This brave new remote world lends itself better to that model.
Every day, I connect 1-on-1 with my clients, business partners, and friends. I also chat with people from my broader professional network and even strangers. That’s what happens when you’re active on social media and provide an easy way for people to schedule a complimentary coaching call with you.
As I’ve suggested before, you can intentionally schedule coffee chats and meetings to catch up with select individuals from your professional network.
Build a list of relevant people from your network (e.g., export your LinkedIn data, including your connections).
Create a spreadsheet using this list as the starting point for a simple relationship management tool.
Set up video chats or phone calls with the subset of folks with whom you want to reconnect.
Schedule a little dedicated time each week to catch up with people to socialize, network, or discuss opportunities. I’m always glad I did!
I spend an incredible amount of time in text-based messaging services every day. But, I find that the best way to connect with someone more deeply is through video or audio chat. You can’t replace the sound of someone’s voice or seeing the expressions on their faces.
As I said, you will need to deliberately schedule meetings to catch up with people now vs. running into them when you’re grabbing lunch. You should also set up small group video chats for fun and networking. I mostly use Zoom for this.
I’ve hosted larger online events, and they can be a lot of fun (e.g., a Friday night virtual cocktail party, a fireside chat about careers). If you’re not up for hosting one of your own, you may be surprised by how many virtual events are available to join.
Meetup provides a filter to see online events.
Eventbrite also lets you search for online events.
Most social media platforms provide ways to find meetups and events, too.
Engaging in larger communities
Another way to expand your social circle — professional and personal — is to join relevant communities. These can be groups that map to your individual interests and hobbies (e.g., a book club). But, they can also be professional groups that will provide networking value for your career or business.
How you engage with your communities depends on whether you are the creator or merely a member. As a creator, you have a greater responsibility to keep the community active, healthy, useful, and safe.
As a member, it can feel overwhelming to join a new community and know how to fit in, engage with others, and add value. But, the best communities try to make the process easier and less scary. For example, my Invincible Career community is a great place to meet other ambitious, friendly, and supportive professionals. We do our best to welcome new members and try to help them as much as possible.
Some rules of thumb when joining a larger community:
Read the code of conduct before posting, commenting, or engaging with other members.
Read the group rules before posting, commenting, or engaging with other members.
Lurk for a few days (maybe even weeks) to get a feel for the community’s culture.
Note what kind of posting, commenting, behavior, and language seems acceptable vs. not in the community.
You have to give to receive (i.e., be helpful and supportive vs. just asking everyone for advice, information, and favors).
I see people make mistakes all the time. They come into a community and immediately start behaving in ways that aren’t appropriate. It doesn’t take long before they are reprimanded or kicked out.
What may be fine in one community might be completely unacceptable in another one. Go slow and take the time to learn the ropes, make some friends, and start contributing in a positive way.
Easing back into the real world
I love making new friends and maintaining long distance relationships online. My business and lifestyle would not be possible without the internet and an array of useful tools and services.
However, there is still something special about meeting people in person. I don’t think the value of socializing in the real world will be going away any time soon. One of my clients has been struggling to build an audience and get good engagement on LinkedIn and Twitter. They are reasonably new to their profession and made a career transition after most of the companies in this particular industry shifted to remote work.
Unfortunately, it isn’t easy to build a significant audience and strong relationships through pure online interactions. Is it possible? Yes, of course it is. But, it is harder if you’re not famous or spending a ton of money on marketing and advertising. So, I recommended they jumpstart the process with some good old-fashioned in-person interaction.
Finding and attending local professional meetups.
Attending relevant industry conferences in person.
Even better, speaking at conferences, being on panels, and teaching workshops in the real world (imagine that!).
Making time to go out for lunch, dinner, and drinks with folks while attending events like this.
We are still human beings and we bond over shared physical experiences, food, drinks, and laughter. That’s just the way it is.
Take control of your socializing and networking
With so many people working at home and staying home more often, we can no longer expect that relationships will “just happen” or be maintained without intentional effort. We have to take control and use available online tools to connect with others.
It’s easy to become isolated when you work at home. I know how lonely it can be, especially since I’ve been living and working this way for many years.
However, it can be transformed into an opportunity to meet new people you would never have encountered in your local daily life. This brave new remote world can globally expand your social circle and professional network if you take advantage of it.
Schedule regular appointments to connect more deeply with people 1-on-1 and in small groups.
Find communities that you can join that will give you opportunities for personal socialization and professional networking.
Create your own community if you can’t find what you need (as I recommended in Chapter 17). Take control and make it happen!
A surprising number of companies are going to let their employees work remotely forever.
Your existing inner circle is valuable, but you need to engage with people beyond it if you want to build a larger network that brings you new opportunities.
Try some of these socialization strategies before you start feeling isolated and lonely.
Be strategic with how often you meet different types of people and the mode of communication used.
Create a schedule of communication that is appropriate for your goals, the depth of connection you want, and the relationships you need to maintain.
Leverage services like Meetup and Eventbrite to find online events you can attend.
Learn the code of conduct and group rules before engaging in larger online communities.
The internet is amazing, but it can’t fully replace the power and magic of meeting people in person and interacting with folks in the real world, too.
Relationships are less likely to “just happen” with all the changes we’ve been through over the past few years. Take control of your socializing and networking to build a more invincible life and career.
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Hi, I’m Larry Cornett, a Personal Coach who can work with you to optimize your career, life, or business. My mission is to help you take complete control of your life so you can become a more “Invincible You.” I currently live in Northern California near Lake Tahoe with my wife and our Great Dane. We’re still snowed in and lost power for about a week. Guess what I had to do a few days ago?