The idea of working at home is a dream for a lot of people and for good reason. Let’s face it: Who doesn’t like the idea of staying indoors in a nice warm house on a cold snowy winter day when everyone else is scraping ice off their windows so they can make a long slow commute during rush hour?
Problem is, there are some downsides to working at home, and I’m not talking about the obvious ones such as getting distracted or trying to constantly get away from home and work. I’m talking about something that can seriously hurt your professional career if you let it.
In business, it’s all about who you know and who you can call when you need a favor; you can’t put a price on having a good friend in your industry who will help you out in a jam. Networking is not hard if you work in a large office building with lots of people around who you talk to daily or at least occasionally. Working at home however is another story.
Whether keeping your company job or working for yourself, suddenly you’ll find yourself sitting at your desk all alone, waiting for the phone to ring and your old workmates to give you a call next time they go to your favorite lunch spot. They might do it the first time, but that will fade. Just like your career if you let it.
So how does one keep a solid group of reliable business contacts on hand without having to pass their days in a cubicle? The following is 5 simple networking tips for those of us who work at home or work remotely away from a team.
5 Networking Tips for Work-at-Home Folk
1. It is Up to YOU to Keep in Touch
Yes, you’ll leave and people will be sorry to see you go, and they’ll promise to keep in touch. And maybe they will. More likely what will happen is after you stop showing up, your co-workers will forget about you.
Maybe they won’t forget about you, but chances are the same people who you see everyday and share jokes with and go to happy hour with will go on without you. Once you’re out of the loop, you’ll share less; when you share less you have less to share and when you have less to share, there’s nothing to talk about. When there’s nothing to talk about, there’s no reason to get together.
Confused yet? It’s actually quite simple. You are the one leaving the office environment. You need to be proactive in keeping the friends you made. It does not help to take an “If they don’t call me, I’m not calling them” stance. Call people, make plans and stick to them.
2. Use Social Media and IM
If you haven’t already done so, sign up for social media like Facebook, Twitter, or an IM service, and use them to keep in touch.
Don’t use these invaluable communication tools to fill people in on the all the awesome things you’re doing now that you don’t have to go to the office anymore; this will just make people mad.
Instead, make status updates to keep people up to date on what you’re doing professionally. You never know when someone you used to work with will see a post of yours and realize they can help you somehow.
These are also great ways to just send a message to someone you haven’t seen in a while to ask what they’re up to so they don’t think you’ve left the office and Earth.
3. Ask Friends for Introductions
Ask close friends in the same profession to introduce you to people who might be able to help you.
If you are a web designer and your best friend from your old job is having drinks with the new guy who you haven’t met, see if you can tag along. You’ll be left out of the standard office talk, but knowing anyone in the same field as you can probably help you down the road someday.
4. Say Yes to Invitations
Working at home is great if you aren’t social. You might think now that you don’t work in an office you don’t have to go to office parties anymore. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Sure, you probably won’t be invited to the office Christmas party anymore and while that’s grand, when an old colleague sends out a mass email inviting everyone to his house for a weekend barbecue, you should be there if you can.
You never know who you might meet and the longer you’re away from the office, the more friends in your industry you’ll want to have.
5. Throw Your Own Party
Even better throw a party of your OWN once in awhile.
Throw a fun costume party at Halloween, or a New Year’s Eve bash to bring in the New Year and people will remember you. Don’t limit it to people you know, ask friends to bring friends. You never know who you might meet, and hey, you might even find yourself having fun once in a while.
It will be hard at first to get used to not seeing the same people everyday, but keeping a strong network is something you don’t want to skimp out on, especially in the beginning of your work-at-home career.
What are some of the ways you keep a strong network while staying at home?
Photo by Jeremy Blanchard via Flickr