Can networking outside the office add value inside the office?
Making connections and building mutually beneficial relationships can drive networking within the workplace. Forming these relationships through networking has taken on greater emphasis [i] in today’s world of work and should not be undervalued. Although it is difficult to measure the results of networking, it is considered a critical career competency in this era [ii] and so companies should be encouraged to invest resources in this field. It can be a powerful tool that has many positive outcomes, including new contacts and opportunities, which can be built and strengthened outside the office.
Networking represents proactive attempts by individuals to develop and maintain personal and professional relationships with others for the purpose of mutual benefit in their work or career [iii]. It can be critical to personal growth and to business development if carried out effectively. It should be kept active through regular communication for mutual benefit. There are different platforms in which networking can take place. It does not have to happen at a planned networking function; it can happen anywhere. The opportunities to network are endless; it is up to us to recognise and act upon them.
Building relationships and rapport can require time and effort. While the impact of networking may not be immediate, the long-term effects can be very significant. Many individuals may find the idea of networking uncomfortable or intimidating [iv], however, a positive approach can be influential when building networks. Although it may come naturally to some individuals more than others, at times it is necessary to go beyond our comfort zone. Entrepreneur Bill Eckstrom echoes this, as he believes that the only way to grow is by doing what makes us uncomfortable, and it is our environment that can either promote or hinder our growth [v]. This is a demonstration of one of the obstacles that individuals may face when trying to enhance both personal development and confidence prior to networking. Our fast-paced lifestyles can add to this as family commitments and life outside of work can, at times, take over and limit the prospect of forming connections. Without networking, we may not be able to get in touch with the ‘right’ people [vi] and can become lost in our path to success.
The value of face-to-face communication can sometimes be overlooked with advancements in modern technology paving the way for social media platforms to dictate communication. With such developments, the working day can be much more than the traditional ‘nine to five’. It can offer many opportunities, with networking outside the office, being one. The opportunities to network outside the office can vary from firms competing against each other in sporting competitions to social activities. Both examples create a platform to build relationships outside the normal working environment. Alongside the obvious physical, mental and social benefits of team sports, there are many relevant transferable skills that can be gained through playing, or supporting, which can be used within the workplace. Perhaps the most obvious skill is teamwork. When colleagues get together outside the office, it allows them to form deeper bonds which can translate into better team dynamics and a more collaborative environment inside the office. These types of relationships that are built through team sports can fuel the establishment of new connections, whilst also strengthening existing ones. Strong bonds can be formed as colleagues build upon shared common interests outside of work. With the help of networking outside the office, dynamics in the workplace can be enhanced and the company culture can be brought to light.
When it comes to networking, social activities and positive relationships can be significant when creating value inside the office. The company culture and environment have a part to play when it comes to socialising outside the office. Activities could be as simple as a team night out or a work anniversary celebration. Having colleagues that enjoy spending time together can help make work more enjoyable as they find it easier to approach each other, becoming more engaged inside the office. A better atmosphere can be created in the workplace through networking as colleagues have bonded outside the office, resulting in getting to know one another further and sharing contacts. Getting involved in social activities can help form genuine friendships and assist with expanding networks. With a close-knit workforce comes a sense of happiness, fulfilment and satisfaction as colleagues work together towards common goals. The benefits of networking for employees and the company become intrinsically linked as a cohesive workforce is formed which allows colleagues to work in tandem with each other.
Networking is also a great opportunity for sharing knowledge and ideas. Further learning through external training courses or a series of lectures for example can provide access to a wide network of informed, interconnected contacts. Gaining opinions and advice from colleagues, classmates or other professionals can increase knowledge and allow different perspectives to be taken into consideration. Innovation expert, Mills-Scoefield agrees and considers networking as a form of continuing education, since additional learning is gained through connections made [vii]. When you surround yourself with the right people, it can have many positive impacts. It is more often than not that these people are from different backgrounds and industries; this is irrelevant. The illustration below shows how individuals can be encouraged to grow their networking skills through recognised opportunities:
The importance of having a viable network in place could be described as the backbone of any successful career path. Developing relationships within this network through the discussed examples are to name but a few of the opportunities that can be used to develop and enhance connections. Networking allows us to interact with people who are in similar industries and beyond. As a result, confidence can be increased, skills can be improved, and professional circles can be broadened. With the right mind-set, networking can be an enjoyable and enriching experience which creates huge benefits both inside, and outside the office.
[i] de Janasz, S. C., Sullivan, S. E., & Whiting, V. (2003). Mentor networks and career success: Lessons for turbulent times. Academy of Management Executive, 17, 78-93.
[ii] Arthur,M. B.,Inkson,K.,& Pringle,J. K. (1999). The new careers: Individual action and economic change. London: Sage.
[iii] Forret, M. L., & Dougherty, T. W. (2001). Correlates of networking behavior for managerial and professional employees. Group & Organization Management, 26, 283-311.
[iv] de Janasz, S. C., Dowd, K. O., & Schneider, B. Z. (2006). Interpersonal skills in organizations (2/e). Burr Ridge, IL: McGraw Hill/Irwin.
[vi] Collins, J. (2001), “Good To Great”, USA: Collins Business
[ix] de Janasz, S. C., & Forret, M. L. (2008). Learning the Art of Networking: A Critical Skill for Enhancing Social Capital and Career Success. Journal of Management Education, 629 - 636.