Dear Heidi: Is relationship capital as important as it once was?

In the age of zoom, relationship capital is as more important than ever. Let me explain.

How is WFH going for you? Love it or hate it, most likely, you felt a bit isolated at some point—missing the things that used to drive you crazy in the office.


It seems strange, but many of us miss the interruptions, the spontaneous interactions that, while distracting, sometimes lead to new ideas or connections.


We used to have what we now realize as a luxury, the serendipitous interactions with the boss, the casual office "pop-in," or the ubiquitous water cooler talk. We could gain an advantage, create an innovative new idea, learn information, develop a relationship, or make a new contact just by physically connecting, primarily by luck.


So, is it still crucial that we connect while working in a virtual, hybrid workplace? In other words, does it matter anymore?


The answer is yes. In the world of hybrid workplaces, reaching out to connect for myriad reasons is arguably more important than in our former, 9-5, in-person work environments. Today, you have to make a deliberate effort.


Before, we could stumble upon a new idea just by chatting with a colleague in the elevator. Now, to have any interactions, we have to make them happen—plan them, in a sense. The lack of spontaneity could dampen the prospects of making valuable connections. However, with the right attitude and tools, you can innovate new ways of reaching out from your virtual world.


Your communication skills have also never been more critical. Communication virtually is more challenging; on-screen, you have to try harder to get your energy across, and your body language is limited. Your listening skills need to be razor-sharp as well. You have to be a good listener to be a good communicator. Your executive presence, emotional intelligence, and cultural awareness will also come into play. Seek out a coach if you think you need some work in this area; you want to mind your manners and be on your "A" game to succeed in the new hybrid arena.


One of the most important things to consider when developing your connection with colleagues, superiors and expanding your network is not to try to recreate what you had in-person, online. Things don't always translate well, from one world to another.


Look at this as an opportunity to engage new, dynamic technology designed to help you work more efficiently and communicate better. Take advantage of areas of tech that can help you nurture your current relationships and help you grow your network.


Many ideas try to simulate, for example, the water cooler talk. A manager may hold "Water cooler Hours," perhaps one day a week for a set hour. Any team member would be welcome to "drop-in” via a virtual platform, just to chat. There could be one person or several. This may seem a bit "forced," but maybe worth a try.


Others offer a set "Open Office Hours" where a team member could make an appointment during the office hours to run an idea past the boss, one-on-one. Or, the manager could use waiting rooms to hold people until they're finished with someone else. This attempts to recreate popping your head in your boss's office as you pass by, but scheduled.


Your network also has never been more critical. Have you ever been in the position of looking for a job, friend, or love interest, and someone said to you, "You have to get out there; nobody is going to knock on your door." Well, it's the same with regards to nurturing and growing your network. You have to get out there, but it's essential to realize that quality over quantity matters with networks.


Just because you have a large number of contacts in your network doesn't mean any of them can or are willing to help you when you need it. Reach out to alums of your university, friends from home and school, colleagues, and adversaries when building your network. Make it personal, and add a note saying why you'd like to connect, and make the effort to stay in touch.


Technology makes it easy to reach out over a virtual coffee to "check-in" and see how someone is doing. Networking is not a one-and-done kind of thing. You have to nurture your contacts, touch them when you don't need anything from them, so they will be more likely to help you when you do ask. In turn, you should reciprocate and be willing to meet with those who count you in their network.


To conclude, your communication and business etiquette skills, coupled with your intelligent use of technology, will help propel you to excel in the new hybrid world. But, it's going to take a genuine, concentrated effort to succeed. Armed with the right tools, you will soar.