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UMGC Career ConnectionThree Virtual Networking Ideas for the Holidays

Jennifer Tomasovic
By Jennifer Tomasovic

In ordinary times, the period between Thanksgiving and the New Year is often peppered with a string of holiday happy hours, association meetings, team celebrations and office parties. With the pandemic keeping us home more than ever, it may be tempting to take a pass on the usual merrymaking and ending the year on a more quieter note.

However, it’s essential to invest in our existing connections and continue to grow our professional network, even during these unusual times.  

“The end of the year is a great time to come together with our colleagues and other connections to reflect on the year, show our appreciation for one another and share our hopes for the future,” says UMGC Associate Vice President of Alumni Relations and Career Services Nikki Sandoval. “The holiday season normally offers the perfect opportunity to do this, but this year we have to work a bit harder to pull it all together due to COVID-19.”

Here are three ways to celebrate your connections while staying safe and healthy during the pandemic.

1. Lead the way

If you’re in charge of a team, you know how important it is for your employees to remain a strong, well-functioning unit. When you’re used to working face-to-face, this happens more naturally thanks to day-to-day exchanges around the office. When working remotely, though, it becomes more challenging because interactions are often transactional over email, phone calls and virtual meetings.

“This year, it’s even more important to make the effort to celebrate with your employees after months of remote work,” explains Sandoval. “It’s up to leaders to set the tone and make this a priority.”

Identify employees to take over the event – from brainstorming ideas for the virtual gathering to running any activities they may plan. This helps ensure your team members are engaged, relaxed and excited about the fun ahead.

In addition to hosting a team celebration, encourage your employees to continue with their own networking effort instead of becoming isolated during the holidays.

“Making time to connect is good for morale,” notes Sandoval. “Employees with strong relationships both inside and outside your organization will show up ready to make positive contributions to the team.”  

2. Put yourself out there

Just because you’re sticking close to home doesn’t mean there aren’t networking opportunities all around you.

“Organizations and associations are actively trying to keep their members and supporters engaged right now,” says Sandoval.

If you’re looking for networking events, start with any professional or industry association you are aligned with. Many are offering virtual conferences or holiday gatherings, so don’t just look in your own geographic area. Expand your search to other parts of the country or even around the world. This may open you up to opportunities that wouldn’t be available if you had to travel for the engagement.

You can also support your favorite nonprofits during this high-need time of year by attending their virtual events.

“This can help introduce you to like-minded people from across industries who may round out your network,” Sandoval notes. 

The key to making the connection last beyond the event is to apply standard networking best practices, such as reaching out to these new acquaintances via LinkedIn and following up with a personal message and an invitation to meet.

3. Put on your party planning hat

Of course, you also can take networking into your own hands by organizing your own events and being strategic about which connections to invite.

“It’s good to define your goal up-front,” advises Sandoval. “Are you looking to show gratitude to mentors who have helped you? Are you celebrating vendors who contributed to a major project you launched? Are you trying to bring connections together for their mutual benefit? This will help you plan accordingly.”

Then have some fun with it. Get creative with themes, such as trivia night, an ugly sweater contest or wine tasting. If your budget allows, you can deliver a gift basket to attendees in advance of the event with all the supplies they will need to participate.

Encourage your guests to use the chat feature on the virtual meeting platform so you can reduce how often people talk over one another. Engage each person by name so they are all included in the conversation. At the end, be sure to thank everyone for coming.

“When you take the extra effort to nurture your professional relationships, you position yourself for a brighter future,” says Sandoval. After a long and challenging year, that’s a welcome possibility.