Is Virtual Networking going to replace physical networking?
This year has been a rollercoaster ride of unusual events. At the beginning of the year a pandemic came and impacted the nations and businesses worldwide.
It started with limiting the physical interactions and closing down some businesses; eventually leading to whole countries being locked down. This unforeseen scenario drastically changed the business scene entirely. With restrictions on social interaction - every meeting, every conference and every seminar got cancelled; bringing those events to a standstill. The uncertainty of this situation made some business owners question their survival for the future. When everyone saw that the disease is not going anywhere anytime soon, eventually they had to alter their business plans according to the current situation.
Complex problems require innovative solutions
A lot of businesses started adapting for these novel circumstances; focusing on digital transformation. Most of the companies with staff started functioning with remote working employees. Businesses started to use digital media to their benefit. Although digital media and virtual marketing have always been a tool for a lot of businesses, now a complete shift towards this technology was made because of the unavailability of any other option. Interactive and social applications like Zoom, Team, Skype and others, have become the platforms for networking and communication. Businesses started their networking with online conferences and digital collaborations to keep in contact with their clients and audience. Although virtual networking can’t be an absolute substitute for physical networking, it certainly came out as a saviour for a lot of businesses!
Virtual Networking: a blessing in disguise?
While virtual networking has its own challenges, it also opened up some new opportunities. With the ease of working from the comfort of your own home, there are no more geographical limitations involved now. This opportunity opened the doors for businesses to grow their network; potentially at international level. Various networking groups came into being and some new business relationships were made online. Virtual marketing actually made it easier for business owners to attend networking online, meet potential clients and seek assistance from globally acknowledged marketers; without consuming time or the cost of physically going to a location. Although there are a lot of positive impacts of virtual networking on businesses, there are some downsides too. Let’s look at some of the major benefits here.
- Expand the variety and quality of your network
Virtual networking provided an opportunity for business owners to connect with different people varying from influencers to entrepreneurs, to big industrialists and to consumers as well, because of the ease of access through digital media. Apart from this expanded circle of business relationships, you can now hire outsource employees from all over the world as location is no longer an issue; making the quality of your team potentially more diversified and more qualified.
- Saves time and effort
With a lot of people working from home, resources were saved which would normally be used for commuting from one place to another. Monetary benefits are gained from reduced cost of gas, energy and other facilities; as well as fuel costs and wear and tear on vehicles.
- Improved digital presence
As the time and cost of the commute reduced, businesses started to invest and focus on their digital presence and strong communication systems which could be beneficial for them in future. Whilst for most there was a steep learning curve getting used to the available technologies, a lot of businesses have adjusted and using various platforms as second nature.
- Create a positive impact through digital media
Digital media and virtual networking helped businesses to create a positive impact on their consumers - from keeping them up to date with information, to running awareness campaigns, to keeping their audience motivated - it all helped to build a trustworthy and reliable connection with both employees and consumers alike.
- Environmentally friendly
Virtual networking is a much more environmentally friendly option to consider even in the future. With less cars on the roads and closed air traffic, the quality of our environment drastically changed in a good way. A great contribution to reducing one’s carbon footprint!
Challenges of Virtual Networking
Every opportunity comes with both challenges and benefits. With completely changed business dynamics, this whole pandemic has affected the economies and businesses worldwide. Where businesses are trying to reduce the negative impact through virtual networking, there are certainly some challenges as well.
- Security concerns
With every remote employee working on a different computer through a different wi-fi connection, the normal office administration has very little control over the internet security of the business. We all have seen Zoom meetings getting hijacked and websites being hacked. All this makes it difficult for businesses to discuss and share confidential and important information over the internet.
- Unanticipated stress
With employees working from home, they have less administrative support available to them. Although employees can keep in touch with their managers through technology, the frequent and instant human contact experienced in the workplace is irreplaceable. This whole situation has put a lot of stress on employees and business owners not used to working from home.
- Technical difficulties
Now that communication is pretty much relying on technology, there is a lot of burden on the networking systems; resulting in technical difficulties and glitches which can make the communication process delayed and sometimes mismanaged.
At the end of the day, if we analyse the whole situation caused by the pandemic, it is quite impossible to say when this disease will come to an end. The changes it has made in the lifestyle and behaviours of people will take years to get back to some sense of “normal”. So it is inevitable for businesses to adopt a digital transformation to catch up and actually survive in the rapidly changing market. Businesses have to look for ways to tackle the challenges faced by virtual networking and use it for their benefit.
The question at the end arises: if we try to look into the near future whenever things will get back to “normal”; will people be actually ready to go back to physical networking or would they want to continue with their working from home routines and network virtually? Well, I think that through good planning and some technical support these businesses can really use this digital transformation in the future to their advantage. People will utilise a virtual existence as much as possible and will resort to physical networking whenever needed. So, in my view, it will actually be a blend of both virtual and physical networking depending upon convenience, involved costs and time availability.
What do you think?