Networking in the Age of COVID-19
Whether the goal is to connect with others, find a new job, or help advance a topic that is important, networking must be viewed with a new lens.
COVID-19 has caused everyone’s daily life to be busier than anyone could have imagined. Those in practice are faced with a deluge of calls, curbside drop-offs and long hours as more than 11.4 million new pets entered the U.S. market, according to the APPA. Industry professionals and veterinary students are glued to an endless stream of Zoom calls and Webex meetings. It seems just getting through the day has become a universal challenge. While the day-to-day has had to evolve, everyone is also caring for their loved ones, blending work and personal lives with at-home education and protecting everyone from COVID-19. The reality is networking, creating new connections and opportunities, has fallen by the wayside.
It is in our human nature to want to connect and engage, but under the current state of affairs, this is not always possible. When the nationwide lockdown began, Facebook, Zoom and other platforms saw a surge in usage of people connecting with friends, family and those they care most about. But then, the longer social restrictions lasted, these moments of engagement shifted as everyone got back to work. It has been subtle, and many may not have noticed, but this profession is losing its personal and professional connections to one another.
Veterinary medicine is not alone in the growing concern around creating connections, meeting new people and collaborating with colleagues. Networking at its core is in crisis.
It may seem daunting, but there are a few subtle things each practitioner can do to ignite their outreach efforts. Whether the goal is to connect with others, find a new job, or help advance a topic that is important, networking in the age of a pandemic must be viewed with a new lens.
Turn on your camera!
While sweatpants, scrubs and just general casual attire have become the norm, it is becoming less and less socially acceptable to not turn on the camera for virtual meetings and gatherings. Despite the initial discomfort, turning on your camera can improve your emotional well-being. In a study at the Stanford School of Medicine, face-to-face interactions, whether in-person or online, can release oxytocin, a hormone that promotes happiness in participants. In addition, being able to see someone’s face also causes the firing of something called “mirror neurons,” where we subconsciously mimic body movements, gestures and expressions. Mirror neurons enable us to understand other people’s emotions and intentions, which goes a long way toward building relationships. This is particularly important today when veterinary students all over the globe are being put into labs with masks, hindering their ability to truly engage with one another.
“We have had many students share with us how challenging it is to social distance and also be social,” said Dr. Stephanie Thompson-Holland, university relations manager for IDEXX. “Interestingly enough, we have even heard from some first-year students who may not even know who is in their class due to the face masks; many discover who is who when they go on a zoom call.”
Activate your networks and join new ones
The largest challenge with networking during the pandemic is that veterinary professionals don’t necessarily get those casual invitations to join colleagues at an event or learn of new developments in the profession. Today, emails and text messages are being overlooked due to the barrage of use. The best way to remain in the know and relevant is to actively seek out those groups and associations to see what they are doing and how they are keeping in touch with their members. Many organizations like PrideVMC, BlackDVM and The Bridge Club host ongoing virtual Happy Hours to connect with those in the profession. Others are hosting unique events to ensure professionals are getting their CEs and are finding ways to connect and engage. Now is also the perfect time to join additional organizations and learn what else is happening in the profession. As all events are virtual, and most are free, it is the perfect opportunity to get more engaged with the profession.
Once seen solely as a job-hunting site, LinkedIn has worked to become a more warm and inclusive community that prioritizes people and the conversations they have. LinkedIn is becoming a tremendous source of news and understanding of what is happening in veterinary medicine. Interestingly, LinkedIn saw a 50% monthly usage increase in March, with users watching over 4 million hours of content.
If it has been awhile, now is the opportunity to update your professional profile. For consultants and other industry professionals, LinkedIn is a great tool for opening the doors to new contacts. Limited to 140 characters, the message can be a vital tool in reaching new contacts and initiating a conversation.
Think outside the box
While many long for the old days of lunch and learns, conference bar gatherings and key opinion leader meetings, COVID-19 has provided the profession the opportunity to think outside of the box and create memorable events and engagements. For example, Compassion-First Pet Hospital’s Talent Development team hosted 28 virtual bingo social hours with residents across 28 campuses.
Newly formed organizations like the Veterinary Virtual Care Association are reinventing what traditional associations can look like in this new virtual world as they develop one of the industry’s first Mighty Networks. Mighty Networks are a singular environment where all aspects of engagement community, content and courses are all in one place.
Virtual conferences continue to gain tremendous traction with 94% of those surveyed who attended the 2020 Texas Veterinary Virtual Symposium indicate they plan to return to watch additional lectures or visit the Virtual Exhibit Hall again over the next 90 days.
Despite all the challenges of COVID-19, the virus has provided every person and professional an unexpected gift – the importance of checking in on those we care about most. Networking is simply an extension of that compassion.
Photo credit: istockphoto.com/FreshSplash