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It’s Not Like Being There. But It’s Not Bad.

Follow this advice to maintain your professional relationships. In some ways, you may even improve them.

By Katy Hall | July 6, 2020

From virtual happy hours to client video chats, we’re all finding new ways to maintain relationships in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While retail stores and restaurants are slowly reopening, many industries aren’t yet ready to conduct business in person. If you’re getting tired of this new “virtual reality,” here are some productive ways you can maintain meaningful contact with your network, clients or even friends.

Embrace technology

The novelty of video calls has clearly worn off, but seeing someone’s face while hearing their voice can really make a better connection.

As soon as Will Bowers, wealth advisor at BOK Financial Private Wealth, started working from home in mid-March, he increased his home network speed to improve his video connection with his clients.

“Face-to-face meetings are as important as ever,” he said. “You’re still able to read their response and see emotion like you would in person, but you just do that through a computer or phone screen.”

Even when meeting virtually, the same principles apply, Bowers said. Active listening is crucial.

And to get more out of his virtual meetings, Bowers used an online tool that verifies signatures electronically when setting up accounts.

He recently signed up a new client though they have never met in person. “As we build our relationship—virtually, for now—I look forward to learning more about his goals so I can set up a financial plan tailored to his needs.”

Joyce Wykstra, BOK Financial treasury management officer, said she always provides a brief agenda for calls with a client and puts it on the screen.

“When you meet in person, you have the ability to ‘feel the room,’ but video calls limit that,” she said. “Providing other forms of structure, like a simple agenda, professional dress and knowing there will be a bit of lag from when you see the other person speak to when you can hear their voice helps you adapt.”

Make it personal

Wykstra finds that the tried-and-true methods of making meaningful connections are still relevant in a virtual reality.

“It may be old fashioned, but picking up the phone and calling to check on a client for no other reason than to see how they are doing is more important than ever,” she said.

Genuine outreach helps clients and colleagues know you care.

“We have a client whose business is close to the site of recent protests in downtown Denver,” she said. “I called to see how she was feeling, let her know that I was thinking about her and to let her know of some options she had for making deposits since our bank location had been impacted as well.”

Take time to find out what is relevant to the person on the other side of the screen, Wkystra advised. She begins every call asking her client for updates or industry news that could impact their business.

“I like to ask what’s on their mind so I know what is important in their world,” Wkystra said. “It also sets the stage for me since they won’t be as open to hearing the information I would like to share if they have a major concern they are working through.”

Help people make new connections

Sean Kelly, BOK Financial commercial banking relationship manager, was a quick adapter. As soon as the stay-at-home orders began in March, Kelly modified what had been quarterly in-person business leader networking sessions to twice-a-month, online video conferences.

The sessions seem to have increased in value during this time of uncertainty, he said. Sometimes simply creating the space for powerful interactions to take place is key.

“Pre-pandemic, people may have been too busy to make time to attend a meeting away from the office,” Kelly said. “Now that most people are away from the office with no need to commute to a meeting, they can find time in their schedule they didn’t have before.”

Kelly’s virtual conferences provide business owners and organization executives a chance to learn from one another. The virtual gatherings of 25 to 30 people allow participants to make new connections, gather feedback on ideas and ask for help.

“The pandemic has been a new experience for all of us, and sometimes, we just need another perspective to get through a challenge,” he said. “These sessions have resulted in really valuable connections that will continue beyond COVID-19.

This is a window where business leaders especially want to align with good partners and having these consistent virtual conversations on the calendar have created the space for people to develop a list of trusted contacts they can call right away.”

4 tips to improve your virtual networking

1. When you schedule a virtual coffee or happy hour, be sure you have the relevant beverage nearby.
2. If you meet someone through a virtual event, connect with them on LinkedIn just as you would after an in-person introduction. Tag them or send a private message to share an article or a link to follow up on the topic or concern you discussed.
3. If you’re hosting an online client event, consider making it fun and interactive like learning to make pasta, crafting the perfect cocktail or competing in online trivia.
4. Add value. Just like in-person networking, your connections are valuable to others. Offer to introduce people to others who may be experiencing the same challenges.