What does networking look like in a time of physical distancing? The short answer is it looks like a screen.
Many of the human interactions we’re used to having in person are happening online these days, from Mother’s Day brunch to graduations. For some of us, that feels strange — even disappointing. With all that digital fatigue, as well as the new responsibilities that have come with the COVID-19 pandemic, it would be easy to postpone or ignore new networking opportunities.
But networking is all about connection and long-term thinking — two things at which safety professionals excel under any conditions. Whether you’re using online tools or standing in a room passing out business cards, networking allows you to spend time with others who share your experiences and concerns. Whether you’re an emerging safety leader or a seasoned professional, networking is a chance to find the guidance, support and confidence you need to realize your goals.
Networking isn’t the same right now, but its impact will be felt in new and exciting ways that we can’t even begin to measure. Here are five reasons to keep reaching out while you’re staying in.
1. Social Isolation Isn’t Good for Mental Health
It’s difficult to understate the importance of relationships in staying mentally and physically healthy. Being alone or experiencing feelings of loneliness can have a profoundly negative impact on the body’s ability to function and thrive. Social isolation for an extended period can even result in depression, increased blood pressure or inflammatory responses. One recent meta-analysis of 148 studies on premature death found that people with strong relationships had a 50% higher chance of survival over an average of more than seven years.
The more positive side of this research is that maintaining connections — even from a distance — can help make us stronger. Networking is not only a great way to form and nurture professional bonds; it also gives you the chance to spread positivity by introducing others in your circle.
2. Learning From Peers Will Help Protect Workers
Anyone who has conducted safety training will tell you that social learning is powerful. While instructor-led exercises and assigned readings are important pieces of the professional development puzzle, the informal conversations learners have before and after a course also help improve retention and build motivation.
In our profession, which frequently finds practitioners working alone as full-time safety advocates on their job sites, learning from peers is that much more critical. Being part of a vibrant community of safety professionals is key to staying on top of the latest risk mitigation strategies, challenging old assumptions and helping your organization develop a culture that empowers teams and saves lives.
3. Connecting Is an Act of Compassion and Warmth
We never know what the people around us are experiencing. But during this time of physical distancing, it’s a safe bet that the people you encounter are coping with things they’ve never faced before. Maybe they’re juggling work responsibilities and teaching their children at home. Maybe they’re worried about the safety and health of loved ones. Even in networking situations, where professionals typically don’t discuss the details of their personal lives, you have an opportunity to show compassion.
In practice, compassion could mean being patient if someone arrives late or forgets your name. It could also mean intentionally listening more, rather than speaking about your own achievements, or directly asking people how you could help them advance their careers.
4. Your Career Isn’t on Pause, Despite Many Changes
Many safety professionals are busier than ever protecting workers on the job with increased sanitation and PPE use, return-to-work policies and remote training methods. Others have had their positions cut, aren’t able to find work or have been furloughed in the wake of our new global business environment. Whether you fall into one of those camps or somewhere else entirely, one thing is certain: Time and your career are moving forward.
Workplace safety and health involves consistently anticipating and adapting to new conditions. That’s why successful leaders in this industry understand the value of exchanging ideas that help everyone improve. Networking with other curious and engaged professionals is one of the best ways to grow.
5. Forming New Professional Relationships Is Fun
Did you know safety professionals can be a lot of fun? Despite being seriously focused on protecting people from serious risks, our community is made up of inherently social people who appreciate a good laugh. Similar to safety, networking has a perception problem. Those who believe networking was devised to torture them with small talk and is only necessary during a job search will be pleased to discover the truth: It is what you make of it.
During this period of increased loneliness for many, with days that can easily blend together, making space for novelty and playfulness is essential. Try attending your next networking event with something lighthearted to share, whether it’s a funny story, a game or an interesting video you found online. Your new connections will thank you for it.
Network with peers who can help you succeed. Join us and the greatest minds in the safety profession at Safety 2020: Virtual.
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