Remember networking? Those mixers built to meet with like-minded colleagues, ice-breaker activities, exchanging business cards and scheduling follow up meetings? It used to be so easy to connect with others, especially at places like Hashtag that are built for cross-collaboration and networking. Networking is vital to the survival of most of our businesses, even now during remote work. So while the idea of yet another Zoom call might seem daunting–after all, “Zoom fatigue” is a real thing–the reality is we NEED each other, and for now the safest way to connect is via our screens. The good news is now every networking opportunity is accessible. At an old-school mixer or other networking event, you are limited in regards to who you will encounter there. This pandemic lifestyle feels isolating, but it actually opens up a lot of opportunities to connect with people you might never have met otherwise. And the even better news is that there are apps and websites that facilitate this very thing! A quick internet search brings up a whole slew of apps that can help you connect with like-minded individuals. Once you find the right virtual platform, the question becomes how to initiate a conversation. While this comes naturally to some, others may be struggling after realizing that a pretty plate of hors d’oeuvres was their only ice-breaker. If you find it too intimidating to reach out to a stranger on a business networking app, consider leaning on second-degree connections. Ask people in your circle who they know that might be curious about your business/product/idea. Then take it a step further and ask your friend to connect you via email or social media. After the introduction has been made, don’t feel like you have to begin your new relationship by immediately trying to sell your business/product/idea. Instead, approach this new relationship in a way that benefits both of you! Start by asking, “What are you passionate about right now?” Seek to deeply understand what the other person is trying to accomplish, and ask how you can help them accomplish that. By genuinely showing interest in someone else, you are fulfilling their basic need to be known. Ideally, they will reciprocate. Virtual networking is rapidly growing, and here at Bitwise, we’ve been exploring new ways to connect and network with each other while working from home. Shift3 Technologies is working on a tool that brings coworkers together through random meetings around our virtual water cooler or in virtual coworking spaces. Even though we spend most of our days in front of our screens, these one-on-one “water cooler chats” are a highlight of the week for many folks! “It was great chatting about our experiences with small communities in big cities. Side note–I don’t think I have smiled more, it was just what the doctor ordered!” – Miaka, Shift3 Technologies Project Manager “I loved how our convo about hair just led us into a discussion about advocacy for equality and equity for all of humanity! Good stuff” – Stephanie Moreno, Geekwise Academy Student Success Specialist “Chatting with my connection and seeing her energy definitely helped give me a boost of energy for the rest of my day.” – Connor Lillies, Shift3 Technologies Project Associate If you’re interested in exploring virtual networking, check out this TechRadar article that breaks down the top five networking apps of 2021. I challenge you to attempt to make at least one new connection within the next week. You can do it! And if you are experiencing some video call burnout, check out this helpful article from Forbes. Networking can be difficult during this year, but there are lots of tools available to help! Explore some websites and apps that help make connections, lean into your existing network, and take care of yourself along the way. You’ll be networking before you know it! Megan Steinert Cardenas is our Community Catalyst for Hashtag Bakersfield, where she oversees the day-to-day operations and helps cultivate the community of our new Hashtag location. She is excited to promote Bitwise’s message of inclusion, “No one belongs here more than you,” to the city of Bakersfield. When she’s not working, Megan enjoys hot yoga, dance parties with her kids, and happy hour!