Has the pandemic changed how you work and network?
Your success requires the aid of others
As we celebrate our 10-year anniversary, we wanted to create some content to share with you the kind of insight we gather and ponder at 9others. We hope it’ll be useful for entrepreneurs, investors, and anyone else with an interest in the challenges of modern business.
“If I spend one more hour in a Zoom meeting, I can’t be held responsible for my actions.” Is something that may sound familiar since the pandemic. Some of us spent so much time on video calls that our brains started to glitch: chatting to imaginary colleagues while eating dinner, raising our hand to speak on calls with family, or frantically tidying the space behind us when our phone rings.
Pre-Covid, working from home was a bit of a treat – but now it isn’t. We’ve been thinking a bit about how the pandemic has changed us. Are we now craving real-life interaction in all forms? Are we more or less likely to rely on networking platforms for new contacts? Has being forced to prioritise our “most important” social events transferred to our work life?
In the US, a Gallup survey found that 30% of office workers never want to go back. Another 60% say they’d like to stay on a hybrid model, going to the office a few days a week. A different study found that more than half of middle-income workers were thinking about changing jobs, and that remote flexibility was a big part of their decision.
Some companies are also starting to consider a 4-day week. There have been rumblings that the Welsh government might trial a 4-day week in the public sector. Pilot studies have shown that a shorter week, especially for those who commute, leads to higher productivity, sharper focus, better mental health and fewer sick days.
Self-reflection and shifting priorities
Something we’ve noticed when talking to entrepreneurs is that, over the past two years, they’ve done some reassessment – around how they spend their time, what kind of work they take on, what kind of networking they do. Perhaps a pandemic upside was an enforced slowing-down, a less hectic pace which led us to introspection and reflection around what we want.
Many of us are being more discerning about how we spend our time. 9others co-founder Matthew says he’s deliberately cut out a lot of meetings and networking in the last 18 months. “This was because I thought about what I was wanting for the next decade,” says Matthew. “And though there's some FOMO, I think in the long run it’s better because successes usually come from derivatives of fewer, stronger relationships.”
Wheat from the chaff
Matthew also called time on LinkedIn at the end of last year. “There was just so much crap on there – virtue signalling was the worst – it was actually getting me down,” he says. “I'd find myself scrolling through, then an hour had disappeared when I could’ve been out for a run or doing deeper, more meaningful work, or talking with someone.”
He said he did some back-of-a-napkin analysis and figured out that all his best working relationships had come via 9others or personal intros. “Where LinkedIn was the origin, the relationship usually wasn’t a good one,” he says. “They always started as very transactional, and often the people who cold-connect via LinkedIn are takers – looking for what they can get straight away.” He found the opposite with people who came via 9others, especially those who attended events. “They tend to be givers first. They look for what they can help with and contribute to without expecting anything in return. But they know that if they do help, then at some point in the future, something will likely come back their way.”
What’s happened to LinkedIn is perhaps inevitable for any platform that reaches a certain level of popularity. Once it’s possible to blanket-reach swathes of professionals with few barriers, it feels difficult to apply quality control. (Unless you have the time and patience to shape your feeds with “I don’t want to see this” settings, which most people don’t.)
Clubhouse is a “social audio” app that became popular during the pandemic and has 28 million+ downloads worldwide. You can join a virtual room and listen in on conversations about anything and everything, from start-up funding to knitting. It became known for luck-of-the-draw moments, where you might end up hearing pearls of wisdom from Elon Musk on a random Monday night. However as the platform exploded in popularity, the lack of quality control became problematic. It was difficult to predict whether a conversation would hold any value. Which, when we were locked up at home and starved of company, might not have mattered; but did once we had more freedom.
Fully online = democratised access
Of course there have been upsides to digitally-led working. For example, it’s become easier for entrepreneurs and start-ups to access content and tools from thought leaders and education programmes. Aspire is one organisation using a digital-first approach to democratise access to entrepreneurial learning. They offer 24/7 access to tailored courses, workshops and bite-sized videos from a global network of industry experts and mentors.
Networking online has never been easier, with social and professional realms almost merging. You can use apps like Meetup to find hyper-specialised groups with shared passions and goals – even do some crafty targeted marketing – any day of the week. Dating apps have also started catering to professionals: Bumble introduced Bumble Bizz, offering a personality-driven alternative to dry business networking.
Another growing area is the cryptocurrency-based “tokenised social community”, such as Friends With Benefits ($FWB). The value of the community, and the creative content within, is determined by users’ ideas and contributions. Members pay 55 $FWB in cryptocurrency to join, and must maintain a certain level of contribution to keep their access. In this way, there exists an inherent quality control and buy-in throughout the community.
More digital, less focus?
With increased immersion in the digital, however, we should be mindful of the threat it poses to our attention. In his latest book Stolen Focus, Johann Hari makes a compelling case for how tech and social media is destroying our ability to focus. Because of constant interruptions from notifications – and the tactics of UX designers to keep us endlessly scrolling – we’re almost never left alone to achieve a state of flow.
Hari explains that though people think they’re multi-tasking, they’re not. Our brains are actually switching rapidly back and forth between tasks, wasting energy. When interrupted, it takes, on average, 23 minutes to return to our previous flow state. He also explains that, over time, constant distraction erodes our sense of and commitment to personal long-term goals. In the drive to be super productive and keep up with our networks, we can lose ourselves.
So while we might be interacting more with networking platforms, we can risk being drowned by unfiltered content and contacts. A way around this might be to set aside an hour or two per week for online networking, and turn off notifications for platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter and non-essential email – allowing yourself to focus better on your main tasks. If you sign up to a new platform, try setting up an email filter to direct “news, updates and events” emails to one folder. You can then make a conscious choice to check that when you’re ready, and single out the things that hold value.
We’re interested to hear about your experiences with working from home, the pandemic, and how it’s changed your relationship to networking. We’d also welcome your input on whether you’d like to see us continue our online events, alongside those in real life. Email Matthew at firstname.lastname@example.org
Article by Sam Edwards, a freelance copywriter based in London.