I was recently interviewed by the UK website Parenting for Professionals and asked for my top tips for working parents who want to build a strong network despite limited time and opportunity. The key goal, I advised them, was that they need to 'Stay in sight, in mind'
Here is the outcome of our conversation, written by Parenting for Professionals' Helen Letchfield:
One of the biggest challenges faced by working parents is how to boost visibility and confidence, and how to rebuild and strengthen relationships. This is particularly important for those who have been out of the office for an extended period of time on maternity or additional paternity leave. However, with restricted hours at work because of childcare and family commitments, is it possible to find time to network?
Parenting for Professionals interviewed Andy Lopata, and he gave us his top 6 tips on networking for working parents.
Tip 1: Treat every meeting as a new opportunity
People often forget that internal meetings are actually opportunities for networking too. It is all too easy to get into your comfort zone of choosing to sit next to a colleague you know well; so why not try sitting next to new people or those you don't know as well and have a chat. Find out what they are working on and how they are getting on. This will not only give you valuable business knowledge, it will also help you deepen your relationship with them. Networking isn't just about getting new contacts.
Tip 2: Socialise at lunch
A very common scenario, especially for part-time parents, is to have lunch at your desk and continue working. This may work for you 1 or 2 days a week if you are rushing to meet deadlines. However, for the other lunchtimes, go to the canteen/communal area/café with someone you would like to get to know better. Make it a social event and don't hide behind your Blackberry! It will enhance your general wellbeing too.
Tip 3: Use your intranet
For those lunchtimes when you are at your desk, take time out to read your company news, blogs, comments and events. This will help you keep abreast of what's going on but it may also introduce you to new and helpful contacts in other teams. Post an 'intelligent' question on the message board or share your opinion. This works particularly well if you are not a naturally confident, outgoing person but still wish to contribute and 'get heard'.
Tip 4: Build relationships with other teams
Need someone in IT to do a quick turnaround for you? Need a sounding board in HR? If you have taken the time to get to know people from these teams, you will find it a whole lot easier to get things done. Where practical, see if you can shadow someone in another team - for a day or for an hour - to really understand what their issues and constraints are. There's nothing like actually doing someone's job to find out how to best interact with them.
Tip 5: Use industry conferences
If budgets are tight, look up the free ones or just go to the trade stands. Make it at least a once a year commitment to attend an event which will help boost your knowledge of the current trends in the marketplace, and also help you meet people doing the same job as you in different companies. If you do meet new people, get their cards and drop them an email the next day.
Tip 6: Social networking
When you do get some down time, think about staying connected through Linked In or Facebook. You might use your commute to do a bit of social networking, but all it takes is a quick 10 second comment or question to friends or colleagues to let them know you are still there. If you have had a particularly busy day with your head down at work in the detail or if you have had a day from home, this is a great opportunity to 'reconnect' with the world.
Finally, Andy recognises that as working parents, you have to work even harder to raise your profile and proactively manage the office politics. It may be a juggling exercise to get the right balance between how much time you are seen at your desk and how much time you devote to getting out there and meeting people. This is also very dependent on your company's culture as to what extent it is a 'be seen to be there culture'. Networking doesn't have to be daunting; take time out every week to strengthen your relationships with the right people, to give your visibility and career prospects a quick boost.