Networking internally is critical to professional success. However, it’s more challenging when teams are distributed. You can’t simply catch up with a colleague before a meeting starts, drop into your boss’s office or grab a last minute coffee with someone in another department. In the absence of spontaneous, informal conversations fostered by a shared space, take the initiative to network virtually with coworkers to develop and maintain relationships.
Why internal networking is important
Internal networking can impact effectiveness, recognition and advancement within your organization. Casual conversation builds trust and rapport and reinforces a sense of belonging. Engaging with leadership and coworkers drives visibility and relationships. Strong internal connections also provide access to inside track information.
Communicating with others who are in-the-know can reveal insights into key players (and their priorities), new business developments and operational challenges. This knowledge can empower strategic decision-making and navigation of company politics. It can also open doors to opportunities: invitations to highly visible meetings, selection for special projects/initiatives or chances to work with desirable clients/accounts. When you’re better plugged into internal operations, you’ll hear about internal job vacancies earlier too.
Maintaining relationships beyond your immediate area can also help with landing a promotion. It’s important to be visible with the people you want to work with, not just those you work with now. Building a reputation as a valued resource, leader, problem solver etc. greatly improves prospects for internal career advancement.
How to network virtually with coworkers
Whether or not your company has systems to support virtual employee engagement, there are internal networking strategies you can employ to build, maintain and strengthen connections with colleagues, managers, direct reports and others — all while working remotely.
So how do you network with coworkers from home?
1. Make a list. Identify who you want to network with, such as those in other departments, at higher levels or on projects and teams you’d like to work with. Include people you know and new contacts to strengthen existing relationships and develop new ones.
2. Schedule check-ins. Don’t put off networking; prioritize it. Set a recurring block of time on your calendar for check-ins and introductory conversations — soon it will be a regular part of your routine. How frequently you touch base with each contact will vary based on the nature of your relationship and other factors. And, of course, remember to make good impressions by responding in a timely manner when colleagues reach out to you.
3. Vary communication tools. People’s preferred methods of contact may have changed when working virtually. Ask others what works best for them, share what’s best for you and be flexible in adapting to new forms of communication.
- People who are on video platforms all day may prefer to speak on the phone.
- Video platforms can drive personal connection quicker because they’re “face to face.”
- Collaboration tools (Microsoft Teams, Slack etc.) can loosely model informal communications of shared workspaces, whether 1:1 or group conversations.
- Some people prefer not to receive texts on their personal phones (or check it regularly during business hours).
4. Participate in virtual company events. Many companies host virtual programs for employees: lunch & learns, happy hours, professional development webinars etc. While often billed as optional, don’t pass up an easy way to connect with coworkers. These events are great opportunities to catch up and engage with people in other departments (including new hires) plus they boost your visibility. And, even if you’re tired of video meetings, remember to bring your “A” game — impressions matter!
5. Utilize shared break time. Schedule a team coffee or lunch break to promote camaraderie and strengthen connections during an informal virtual meetup. Offer options at varying times to accommodate schedules and be flexible about attendance, on-camera appearance etc.
6. Branch out. Reach out to people in other parts of the company to grow your internal network. These contacts can inform you about strategy or operations in other areas to improve effectiveness in your job or (if you’re considering an internal move) give insights into a different role. Ask for an introduction by a mutual contact or reach out directly. Remember, many people are inundated by emails and other message forms, so be clear and concise in how you introduce yourself and why you’re reaching out.
7. Engage with company social media. Follow company social media — especially LinkedIn — and interact with posts. Connect with select colleagues, tagging them when relevant, and support their achievements. Share content that’s informative and relates to your company, industry or role. Follow up with colleagues who comment on, share or like what you’ve shared. (Before increasing your visibility with content engagement, make sure your LinkedIn profile is up-to-date too!)
8. Get creative. Best practices evolve. Don’t hesitate to try new ways of communicating or suggest internal networking opportunities around different topics or events. Consider connecting around shared interests. For example, create a lunchtime book club, a roundtable discussion about current challenges or a group debrief of a favorite TV show. If something isn’t working, scrap it and move on. Focus on making time to interact with coworkers and the rest will follow.
The prospect of carving out time to connect remotely with colleagues (beyond the minimum required to do your job) can feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Start by adding a few internal networking habits to your routine and it will make communication easier. These efforts will help you stay in-the-know, build rapport with new and familiar colleagues and increase recognition of your talents and achievements. Keeping up with others can also help reduce feelings of isolation and reinvigorate your sense of purpose in the evolving landscape of virtual and hybrid work environments.