RELATIONSHIPS

How to Socialize in a Brave New Remote World

Maintaining personal and professional relationships

Larry Cornett, Ph.D.
Sep 8, 2020 · 12 min read
Lady in kitchen on video chat on her laptop
Lady in kitchen on video chat on her laptop
Photo by Ekaterina Bolovtsova on Pexels

Millions of people around the world have been working at home for most of this year. More companies are joining the ranks of those who have decided to let their employees work remotely until next year, perhaps forever.

Corporations are closing down campuses, leaving office spaces, ending 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.

I think a few of us knew that this “remote work thing” wasn’t going away anytime soon. I’m a cohost of The Brave New Workforce podcast, and we are predicting that this year has been 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!

I would guess that many of you reading this might be working at home right now. Even students of all ages are schooling 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, these are no longer an option for many of us.

I’ve heard questions like this from my broader community:

  • How do I network now without the usual venues?

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 this and suffering from the isolation and some loneliness right now, my words probably provide small comfort. I know that you want a solution that you can put into action right now.

Here are some recommendations that 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 type 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.

Graph of communication intensity and priority by frequency
Graph of communication intensity and priority by frequency

I have friends and family all over the world. I don’t get to see people very frequently when they live far away. With the pandemic, 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 relationship that you need to maintain.

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 1-on-1 and in small groups

The pandemic has disrupted traditional networking, 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 with my clients, business partners, and friends 1-on-1. I also chat with people from my broader professional network and even strangers. That’s what happens when you’re active on social media, especially Twitter, 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 (export your LinkedIn data, including your connections).

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 and Whereby for this.

I’ve been hosting these events for the past few months, and they can be a lot of fun (e.g., a Friday night virtual cocktail party). There are a couple of services that I’ve been using lately. They do an excellent job of recreating the value of the water cooler effect and more intimate networking meetups.

LunchClub

LunchClub is genuinely a professional networking service. It’s focused on connecting people with mutual relevance to meet one another via video chat.

You start by providing your background, goals, and interests (e.g., mentoring, meeting interesting people, business development, finding a cofounder). Each week, you decide if you want to make a new connection and select the times you are available. Then, Lunchclub’s AI matches you with someone for a 1-on-1 video meeting.

Some of my friends love it and have already had dozens of interesting meetings with smart people, startup founders, tech leaders, and investors. I’ve opened my calendar to a couple of matches every week, and it’s been delightful so far.

Icebreaker

I recently tested a new service called Icebreaker with my community. I scheduled a meetup event and selected some conversational games from their set of templates.

Some examples:

  • As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

We met using the service for a real-time group chat, and there’s a stage where up to 8 of you can video chat as well. But, the real experience starts when you are randomly paired for 1-on-1 conversations using the icebreaker questions and topics.

It’s a lot of fun, and you get to know people a lot better than you would in a group setting. Everyone gets a chance to talk!

Find 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.

Some of the most popular resources for finding a community:

  • Discord — While Discord was initially created for gamers, it has expanded into many other types of communities and social purposes. You can explore the public servers and find something that matches your interests (e.g., writing, music, entertainment, tech, science, gaming). You can also get invited to one of the private servers if you know someone who runs it.

Create a community

I used to be a part of the Design/UX community when I was a designer and Design Leader. I attended meetups, spoke at conferences, and participated in online discussions.

However, when I moved more into the Product world, I drifted away from the UX community. Strangely enough, there didn’t seem to an equivalent Product community. So, I often felt a bit alone and isolated as a Product leader.

Now, as a solopreneur, I feel even more alone and isolated. I tried a few entrepreneurial communities and groups focused on startup founders. But, they didn’t quite fit who I am, what my business is, and it left me frustrated.

Finally, I said, “Well, if the perfect community doesn’t exist, I will create one.” So, I did.

I launched my Slack community over three years ago and have carefully curated the membership. It’s full of people who are ambitious about their careers and seeking professional development challenges, opportunities, and support.

We don’t allow jerks to enter the community (we’ve had to kick a few people out). Everyone is friendly, helpful, and supportive. We push each other to grow and achieve our goals, celebrate each other’s successes, and we commiserate when someone experiences a failure.

So, if you can’t find what you are looking for, create your own community. There are many options available and pros and cons of each. Some solutions are free, but some do require a monthly subscription fee to use the service.

I know that asking, “What is the best community software solution?” is asking for trouble. People have strong opinions and love/hate relationships with each of these. But, here are some options to consider:

  • Slack Team (basic version is free) — I have been using Slack for over six years now. It’s still the primary home for my career community. I do get frustrated by the limitations (e.g., I have 52,000 older messages hidden behind the subscription wall), and it’s way too expensive to upgrade to the paid version for my community.

One of the most significant decisions that you’ll need to make is how you handle membership. Do you want a public community that anyone can find and join? Or would you prefer a private community that is invite-only? Do you want your community to be unlisted or discoverable?

These choices may determine how quickly your community grows and how large it becomes. It will also impact the culture and behavior within your community. I’m sure you’ve experienced some of the negatives of public groups where people attack each other, spam the group, and generally degrade the quality.

You should clearly define the rules of the community, standards of conduct, and the consequences of violating the rules. I’ve had to remove a few people from my communities to ensure that they remained safe and positive places for people to connect and socialize.

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.

  1. Schedule regular appointments to connect more deeply with people 1-on-1 and in small groups.

Read more of the professional development advice that I share with my ambitious subscribers every week. Check out my leadership and career coaching at Brilliant Forge LLC.

Larry Cornett is a Leadership Coach and Career Advisor. He lives in Northern California near Lake Tahoe with his wife and children, a Great Dane, and a rabbit. He shares advice that helps you become an opportunity magnet for the best things in life! You can also find him on Twitter and Instagram @cornett.

Invincible Career

Invincible Career® — Reclaim your power and regain your freedom!

Larry Cornett, Ph.D.

Written by

I’m a leadership coach & business advisor who helps you reclaim your power and regain your freedom. Become Invincible! 🚀https://newsletter.invinciblecareer.com

Invincible Career

Invincible Career® — Stories that help you reclaim your power, regain your freedom, and become invincible in your work and life!

Larry Cornett, Ph.D.

Written by

I’m a leadership coach & business advisor who helps you reclaim your power and regain your freedom. Become Invincible! 🚀https://newsletter.invinciblecareer.com

Invincible Career

Invincible Career® — Stories that help you reclaim your power, regain your freedom, and become invincible in your work and life!

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store