What Are Online Professional Relationships and Why Do They Matter

What we expected from and at work over the last few years have been weird, right? The emergence of work from home has changed how people experience work and others. Among the biggest shifts during this time were people traveling less, attending fewer in-person events and the fatigue that so many people felt around commuting to a workplace being swapped out for non-stop video meetings and managing your child’s educational experience from home. 

What are online_In Article

Hopefully, some of what has been most difficult about feeling connected during covid is alleviated somewhat by our ability to safely get together again. And yet, online professional relationships matter now more than ever given the continued reign of social media, fragmenting of traditional relationships and the increased frequency that roles will be virtual.

If you ask people whether they want to build a meaningful network they quickly respond, “Absolutely!” And yet, very often they make the least effort to realize one. Particularly online professional relationships. 

So, Russ, what are these online professional relationships of which you speak? Most often these individuals emerge from one of a few scenarios:

  • Former colleagues, classmates, etc. who do not live close to you, or you have not prioritized seeing locally.
  • People you may have met at a professional conference or networking event that you have not seen in person since, and might not ever, given where you each live and how often you travel. 
  • Someone a friend or colleagues introduced you to give or offer advice that you have spoken with but have no plans to meet with in the future.
  • An individual that you’ve ‘come to know’ through online engagement. Often this is the simple act of one of you commenting on the other’s social media posts or reaching out directly to engage you.

Even the tiniest of relational seeds are important as you seek a more dense and diverse forest of relationships. The people above may not seem like those you have most relied upon in your network, although they could be in the future.

Why should you care about tending to, building upon existing connections, or creating more of these relationships?

Others want to help. One of the lovelier epiphanies that we regularly experience is how people from our distant past and infrequent present are invested in our success. Multiple times each week I will hear from someone that they were shocked that a person they rarely engaged had served as a source of support, amplifying a need or accomplishment to others. 

How do they help? 

  • They can be your eyes and ears about opportunities about which you might not otherwise know. They can be your recommenders and connections to different workplaces. 
  • They can tell you about events and competitive opportunities that pass their way. 
  • They can engage with your writing whether through reading, liking, sharing, or commenting. 

I was surprised when I started writing, how people I had the loosest connections to were generous in supporting this new practice. Many seemed to be genuinely happy to have a way to help me in some way, given how I had helped them in the past.

You build a sturdier foundation in an area of interest. Many of the people I mentioned above come from a shared professional experience or interaction over a shared interest. As a result, these individuals are in a great position to help you grow your depth and breadth of knowledge about a role, field, or industry. Being connected to them also enables you to discover more about intriguing research, organizations and people who are also connected to them just through their social stream. It is like passive intellectual income. 

I recently started working on a new project that I only discovered because a person I met at a conference and connected with posted about it via Facebook. It was not his prior area of work and I just happened to be looking at the right time, but chance is often a part of the process in networking. 

Decrease your isolation. So many people feel very disconnected. Your online professional relationships can remain in a steady state, but some of these might also mature into people that you end up connecting with more deeply and regularly. Relationships can have seasons and some of these folks will emerge as important to you in the future.

However, even if no one becomes your future bestie, there are still some amazing aspects of online professional relationships. Overall, having more people that you can be authentic with is terrific. All of us are better off if we have people to turn to for support, advice, and connection. 

I hope that this has motivated you to dedicate some time to exploring this further. 

Russ Finkelstein [linkedin.com] is the opposite of your High School Guidance Counselor.  A career coach, social entrepreneur, and advisor to founders, he is currently the Director of Coaching with the Roddenberry Fellowship, Coach-in-Residence with StartingBloc Fellowship, and a Co-Founder of Title8 a Legal Marketplace. He was a founder of the noted careers website Idealist.org and was chosen as a Generation Z Influencer by LinkedIn.


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