For most people (including myself), it’s hard to connect with a stranger on a professional level. It’s taken more practice than I’d like to admit to muster up the courage to ask someone for professional advice. I often leave interactions wishing I had simply put my cards on the table. The fear of bothering someone, catching them when they don’t want to talk shop, or sheer intimidation can get in the way — and this can happen a lot when attending networking events.
But, when I do get the courage, the dividends are always there. I can’t count the serendipitous opportunities that have come seemingly from out of nowhere. And all it takes is a step or two outside my comfort zone.
In June 2016, I joined Remote Year. Remote Year brings together a community of 75 people working in location-independent roles to spend a year working, traveling, and exploring 12 cities around the globe. And, when I started in the program, I saw there was room to foster more professional development. I launched a tried-and-true method I had participated in during years in tech startup culture: office hours.
Office Hours allow professional upgrading without the intimidation of a networking event. You can find office hours at many co-working spaces and startup accelerator programs. Those who host office hours offer up topics they have experience with — from social media strategy to hiring developers. Those who attend are able to sign up for a 1-on-1, professional meeting with someone who has been there before and can share advice.
Office Hours provide 3 benefits:
- Both parties opt-in and there’s no fear of bothering anyone. You have a willing participant, which could be the start of a great relationship.
- The time you set aside is dedicated to professional development. You can skip the small talk.
- Knowledge share, rather than socializing, is the focus. You’ll walk away with actionable advice.
Over the years, participating in office hours has been some of the best time I’ve spent professionally — on both sides of the table.
What started as an idea spark here at Remote Year soon turned a fire. Within two days of announcing the idea, four Remote Year Darien members had agreed to offer 30-minute meeting times. A week later, ten meetings took place.
“I found Office Hours to be a rewarding process, both as a participant and even more so as a host,” said iOS developer and designer Andrew J. Clark. “Being able to meet about my new app idea gave me insights and feedback that is simply unavailable in normal social settings. Likewise, I found helping a person through a life, work, or creative hurdle to be a deeply satisfying exchange.”
The most exciting part about launching this idea was seeing interest from Remote Year about implementing it across cohorts. Someone in Lima could sign up for office hours with a community member in Kuala Lumpur. In less than a month, this concept — dubbed “Expertise Exchange” by Remote Year — was opened up to over 400 professionals in the Remote Year community.
“With such a talented pool of individuals in our Remote Year network, we’ve found skill and expertise sharing across individuals to be of the most enriching professional development opportunities,” said Trish Kennelly, director of program operations for Remote Year. “The Expertise Exchange concept is a way to formalize this process. It gives Remotes the permission to ask each other for help, which creates an effective platform for professional connections.”
Now it’s your turn. How could you facilitate knowledge share within your community or organization in a comfortable, professional way? Implementing office hours might be one way to start the ball rolling!