How to Build a Network as a Remote Professional

Regardless of your relationship with technology, it’s hard to ignore the impact it’s has had on the world. I was thinking about this on my way to the airport recently armed with my 2.2 lb laptop with its long-life battery and my smart phone; reminiscing on the day, many years ago when I schlepped my first laptop on a trip. It was big and bulky weighing over 6 lbs with no battery life and no WIFI. The only way to get Internet was with an Ethernet cable. Things have sure changed a lot since then.

Now, my laptop is the console to the universe. Under the right set of circumstances, I could even connect to the international space station (ISS) or the @WhiteHouse. I’ve actually engaged in a live stream Q&A session with top White House staff. Pretty cool, huh?

So how has this changed my approach to work?

When I transitioned from corporate life to become a remote professional, lots of people told me I’d be lonely and isolated. Au contraire…. access to smartphones, social channels, IM, texting and video chat have left me with a completely different problem. Rather than feeling lonely, there are endless opportunities to stay in touch with my network and connect with pretty much anyone who will answer my requests for contact. There is a new attitude about professional networking that frees us up to reach out through tools such as LinkedIn to ask advice, give advice, share our activities, collaborate or build relationships.

Rather than feel lonely, I spend much more of my energy maintaining my focus on my to-do list so I can stay on task and meet my deadlines. I have to be laser focused on my goals every day, manage my own calendar and set good boundaries on my time so I don’t get waylaid by distractions.  It takes discipline and effort – particularly when it’s nice outside my window. But I get a lot of satisfaction from my work and if I do feel lonely or am struggling with a question/problem, I can check to see who has time for a quick chat.

New operating parameters mean fewer restrictions

During my days in the corporate world hierarchy, rigid company culture and sometimes security badge access dictated who could speak with whom. My network was limited by these arcane constraints and it often slowed work down quite a bit. As a remote professional, I succeed based on my ability to stay connected with LOTS of people, regardless, and sometimes in complete disregard for, hierarchy, title and corporate structure. That means I need to build in time to develop, then maintain those relationships if I wish to leverage them when needed.

This isn’t a luxury, but a necessity. Networking and the building your circle of trusted experts is one of the keys to remote work success. Luckily, the internet gives us a platform for broadcast communication so we can reach out to contacts and create our own online professional network on our timetable through a variety of channels. In return for our efforts, this network becomes a source of business intelligence and easy access to lots of expertise.

Pretty nice trade-off, don’t you think?

Avoiding loneliness and isolation as a remote professional

Several years into my consulting career I have yet to feel lonely or isolated. That’s because with very little effort I can seek advice, solicit an opinion, poll a group, share content or brainstorm ideas with a large network of trusted professionals located around the world. Video chat, audio chat, instant messaging, texting, email let me choose the channel that works best for my purposes as well as my audience. Sometimes, I am amazed at how noisy it gets in my home office.

This provides me a sense of community and connectedness that is useful in my work and helpful on the tough days when things aren’t going according to plan.

Strong networks are the key to success as a remote professional and they are easier than you think to build. All it takes is a bit of effort on your part; a genuine interest in others; a collaborative attitude and a respect for difference.

The best networks are built ahead of the need. Building your network before you need it makes it easier to cultivate relationships. As a remote professional, networks extend your reach and your capabilities. For instance, network contacts that work at the “home” office can keep you updated on daily activities and even speak on your behalf when you can’t be there in person.

Make an effort, take an interest.

There are lots of ways to build these connections. Acting as a useful and competent partner is a great start. Sharing your expertise and your experience freely is another. You also have to show your human side. The best work relationships develop when people have trust in each other. That means taking time at appropriate times to learn about others and to let others learn about you.

Humans lack empathy for strangers, but the more we see each other as individuals with whom we have things in common; the more empathy we feel. Letting people see your human-side makes you more real to those that work with you. Some people can do this over the phone; I’ve witnessed some people who can even do this via email.

Be Genuine

This has never been hard for me because I am a naturally curious person who takes a real interest in others. I like to hear their stories. As a remote professional, I am always on the lookout for potential collaboration partners, people with complementary expertise, interesting folks doing interesting things. Having a wide variety of contacts gives you a unique opportunity to be what Martin Gladwell called a “Connector” in his best-selling book, The Tipping Point. Knowing people well enough to recommend them to others and also call on them yourself when you have a need gives you an extended reach and elevates your value.

Collaboration requires give and take in equal measure

 If you want people to be available when you need them, then it’s reasonable for them to expect you to do the same. Seems like a no-brainer, yet so many people fail to reciprocate or tend to put their own needs above others. Taking without giving will only work for a while; don’t be surprised when your network drops off and stops returning your messages.

Use your downtimes to reach out to your network and do friendly check-ins

Everyone likes to know someone is thinking about them. Are work cycles wind down and you have a bit of breathing space, don’t waste the opportunity. Reach out to folks in your network who you haven’t heard from in a while and do quick check-ins. This doesn’t take as long as you think. Also with all the electronic options, we have to connect, this can be done on off hours and in-between times. I like to do it while I am traveling as there is lots of downtime. If I don’t have a pressing work deadline, I turn my attention instead to the list of core folks I trust and I send them a quick note to say hello and ask what’s up.

I also build it into my schedule at the beginning and end of the day. This is a nice mental boost because just thinking about these people puts a smile on my face and gives me an emotional lift. It’s a reminder I’m not alone and I have friends/trusted colleagues in the world I can count on. 9 times out of 10 I’ll get a positive response and that provides another positive mental moment for me when I get to review their response. People appreciate you checking in with them when the check-in is sincere and the benefit you get from the act of reaching out and the follow-up response is a real mood boost.

Based on our work at Sophaya, we know that everyone has their own methods for alleviating feelings of loneliness and isolation….I’ve shared a few of my techniques. We would love to hear yours!