As you prepare for face-to-face sales meetings, networking events, and other business interactions, you may feel a little anxious. You’ve spent months in quarantine and social distancing. After communicating through Zoom for so long, with fun backgrounds and annoying pets to lighten the mood, it may not seem “normal” to be back in a crowded room or formal meeting.
To help you make the transition, I’ve contacted entrepreneurs and business leaders to learn how to make the adjustment. Here is their advice:
1. Respect other people’s comfort.
Everyone will react differently to personal events. Some of your team members will be thrilled to shake hands, hug friends, and be in the same place for the first time in ages. Others may want to keep their distance when it comes to new virus variants. Respecting each individual’s individual choice is key to successful relationship building.
You should also take precautions before, during, and after personal interactions. Wash your hands regularly and follow current health guidelines. If you are planning to host an event, monitor attendees for symptoms, provide hand washing and disinfecting stations, and encourage everyone to virtually attend if they experience symptoms.
Duane Spiers, CEO of the consulting firm Success Team Coaching, has successfully held several face-to-face events for 100 to 300 people since last year. “When the world opens up again, there will be a much-needed opportunity for people to relive the exciting power of personal relationship building,” says Spiers. “By following this advice, you will become more confident to host incredible meetings and events, and you will see your business and life take to the next level!”
2. Be conscious of relationship building.
In a survey by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, 95% of respondents said face-to-face meetings are critical to building and maintaining long-term relationships. When entering into new relationships and reinvigorating existing ones, it is important to be deliberate.
Everyone knows how to be polite, but it’s hard to be fully present when you feel like your time should be spent elsewhere. If you want to build worthwhile relationships, you need to give others the time and attention they deserve. Nick McLean, founder of Midwestern private equity firm Four Pillars Investors, knows that building relationships is key to doing business.
“My first job after school was in counseling,” he says. “Week after week, the customer paid all the travel expenses of the project team for the personal collaboration with the customer. That shaped me. Fast forward to today: some would say that our business is about building partnerships. We can do our job without personal relationship building, but we feel like this is the easy way to go. Since some of our competitors do not make the effort to meet in person, this allows us to differentiate ourselves from others. “
3. Be sincere and considerate.
Bert Cattoor, founder and CEO of mobile mapping and machine learning company Geckomatics, believes that what you get out of relationships is what you put in. “In post-pandemic times, it is generous to take the time to meet physically. Notice what is important to the person you are meeting, and whether you can give value that builds a network that value will find you in sooner or later. Give advice, open your network to introduce interesting people and take the time to listen. “
In deciding where (or how) to meet, consider your options: Are you meeting an important client? Take the time to meet them in person so they can see how important the relationship is to you. Are you planning a recurring meeting with your teammates? It’s okay to be flexible, but don’t forget how influential personal interactions can be. And whether you meet online or in person, make sure you take the other person’s needs into account.
4. The aim is to have fun.
Jeanine Smith, CEO of media company Sorority Records, says the pandemic taught her to value the fundamental freedoms she took for granted before the quarantine. As a result, she’s focused on having fun as the world finally moves into the post-pandemic era. Your recommendation? Don’t just have the conversation about you if you want to keep things light and make a good impression.
“Make sure everyone is going through something so that nobody is completely focused on you,” she says. “The best you can do is relax and stay cool when you meet someone. Nobody wants your stress when they have their own. “
To rebuild old relationships and build new ones, you should focus on giving. When you help others, you create the foundation for a relationship that can last a lifetime. Reassure people with your presence and always give in before trying to ask for anything.
5. Be creative and get out of your comfort zone.
Patrick Casey, Financial Operations Manager at horticultural company Arqlite, looks forward to rebuilding relationships the old-fashioned way. “This is an excellent opportunity to find common ground with people and to build authentic connections,” says Casey. “It cannot be said often enough that the world we are returning to has been on hold for over a year and that some parts of the world are facing very different circumstances – don’t take it for granted!”
Personal interactions develop organically, build trust, and help you get to know people faster. A curious customer who walks in for the first time can get an impromptu company tour and get an impression of the professionalism of your company and the feeling of special treatment. These powerful moments can’t happen through screen sharing.
6. Prioritize empathy and flexibility.
“The past year has increased the importance of empathy for everyone,” said Tom Hickman, director of business development at Chainyard for digital transformation. “You can build solid relationships through empathy – both privately and professionally. Our customers suffered in their part of the world, and by showing that we really care about them and their families, we have built an even deeper bond with them. Regardless of where we were, we all suffered in some way. The pandemic has revealed a lot of our nature and the most important things in our lives. “
Hickman believes there is an easy way to apply the same lessons to a world where personal interactions return: through listening. Listen to your employees and their wishes for the future of work in your company. Listen to your customers and learn what they need most from your company. By listening you will learn and be able to apply those insights and challenge traditional business practice.
However, don’t expect an overnight transformation. Change takes time, and everyone involved needs to be patient with ongoing business developments. With this in mind, Hickman recommends communicating too much. When everyone is on the same page, progress is more obvious – even if it is happening at a modest pace.
The business world has changed in the last 18 months. While some things will never be the same again, the return of personal interactions is an exciting prospect. To start rebuilding relationships, you should follow the advice of these business leaders.