The importance of face-to-face networking for businesses in the Square Mile
Indeed, this was never more apparent than during the pandemic, when we not only suffered from screen fatigue, but became aware of how challenging it is to form and maintain meaningful connections via our phones or computer screens, not least because of distractions, technical issues, and discomfort over the invasion of our privacy.
The need to network is as important as ever, if not more so and there is a wide range of friendly, informal, business-focussed breakfast, lunch and evening events to attend in the City. More than half a million people work in the Square Mile for some 22,000 firms, and with only 9,000 people living there, businesses are more dependent than ever on other companies for business referrals and recommendations – which are still among the main sources of new business.
The pandemic brought about other changes too: not everyone is back at the office full time, and hybrid or home-working has led to people feeling isolated, lonely or disconnected from others, making face-to-face networking important not only for their business but for their mental health. Psychologists have shown that not only is human contact vital for our wellbeing, but also that better, stronger relationships are formed where we can physically interact with each other, picking up subliminal clues via our senses, including body language, the expression in someone’s eyes and even the connection that is made when we shake someone’s hand in greeting. Studies have shown that the further away we get from face-to-face contact, the more distrust there is and the harder we find it to interpret meaning in communications.
It is true that meeting via Zoom or LinkedIn can lead to very directed exchanges, but so much of human interaction is about sharing views and ideas, finding common passions or problems, letting a conversation take you to unexpected places and, yes, having a laugh – these things are the glue that helps bind us to others, build trust and ultimately lead to meaningful rather than superficial connections. When we meet in person, we do not need ‘likes’ or ‘thumbs up’ to show that we are responding positively to each other.
The value in networking often comes where it is least expected – you may not immediately see a business opportunity in the person you are talking to, but forming a genuine relationship with them over time potentially opens you up to all their contacts, and vice versa. That is just one of the reasons why it is better to concentrate on finding like-minded and interesting people and engaging with them on a meaningful level. You may find it leads to a valuable opportunity over time, and if not, well, you’ve gained a friend.
Fiona Ross, Director of Business Junction, London’s premier business network