5 Thoughtful Ways to Build Relationships Virtually

When you can't forge in-person relationships, connecting virtually can be a powerful tool. Here are effective tips to make it work for you.

Rachel Cooke
5-minute read
Episode #590
The Quick And Dirty
  1. Put yourself out there strategically
  2. Lead with generosity
  3. Engage in virtual discussions
  4. Share wisdom strategically
  5. Have a shared learning experience

As we continue to persist in this new version of normal, it's likely many of us will experience a sense of isolation and disconnection. Practicing social distancing and working remotely can make the idea of relationships—human connection—feel like a thing of the past.

But as we all continue to move through this historic and anxiety-provoking moment, connection and relationships matter more than ever.

Though in-person lunches, coffees, conferences and happy hours may be off the current list of options, there are still many ways in which we can and should create and nurture relationships right now.

Put yourself out there strategically

Meaningful connection begins with letting people know how and why to connect with you. Who you are is a complex equation. You’re the sum of your professional skills, interests, and affiliations, your hobbies, your alma mater, your community, and so much more.

Right now, connection and relationships matter more than ever.

Putting up profiles of yourself on social networking platforms is a good start. But being strategic about how you position yourself—what details you highlight, what experiences and qualifications you broadcast—will influence the audience that finds you.

What do you want to attract right now? Are you seeking clients for your small business? Are you looking for a new job? Are you striving to position yourself as a thought leader in a subject area? Wanting to connect with old friends or classmates?

Whatever your answer, make that desire known.

Personal branding expert William Arruda shared some of his favorite tips for thoughtfully composing a LinkedIn profile that attracts the network you’re striving to build.

  • Focus on skills and keywords that are relevant to the people you want to attract
  • Use headlines and headshots wisely to capture short attention spans
  • Curate the details of your background—relevance matters more than length

Ultimately, your goal is to project an open invitation to the people with whom you most want to connect.

Lead with generosity

A great way to make connections with new people (or to rekindle existing relationships) is to offer your time, skill, or expertise as a means of connecting.

I was speaking recently with James, the owner of an event planning business. In our current socially distanced reality, he is effectively out of work for the moment. But he recognizes the importance of continuing to invest in relationships. He’s wisely taking a long view.

Is there something you're uniquely positioned to offer that will help you build a connection with others?

James has reached out to customers and has offered up his expertise—pro bono—should they need assistance in bringing their teams together virtually. He has the time, he has the knowledge, so why not use them to create results for those around him?

The same principles can apply in a community setting as well. Fashion designer Christian Siriano has announced that he will halt making high-end fashions and use his skill and resources instead to make masks to keep healthcare workers safe during the pandemic. While some might label this move as “public relations,” it serves to connect him to a community.

Whether in business or in your local community, is there something you're uniquely positioned to offer that will help you build a connection with others?

Engage in virtual discussions

In the current moment, live events and conferences—generally great places for engaging dialog—are shut down. But conversations are still taking place online.

What discussions are you looking to participate in right now? Are you looking to engage your intellectual side? Or your social one? Either way, there are steps you can take.

Try a Brady-Bunch-style virtual happy hour. Adult beverages are optional.

LinkedIn is one great place for topical conversation. You can join an online group organized for university alumni, practitioners in certain fields, or even people with shared interests in a topic, technology, or influencer. Chat online with those with similar backgrounds and interests as a way to feed your intellectual appetite.

Or go online, find articles of interest, and leave thought-provoking comments or questions for the author or other readers. Keep an eye out for responses and start new conversations.

Craving some non-topical human connection? Try a Brady-Bunch-style virtual happy hour. I’ve seen so many images in recent weeks of teams, friends, and families joining group Facetime or Zoom chats designed solely to bring groups of people back together. Adult beverages are optional.

Share wisdom strategically

We’ve all got a lot of reading time right now. So as you find yourself reading compelling pieces, think about ways you might share them in order to add unique value.

If it’s an article that may appeal to many in your professional circle, consider posting it to a social media account. The key is to ensure you add your own two cents to demonstrate your critical thinking. Craft a pithy sentence or two and don’t forget to use strategic hashtags so those searching for topics can find it. Mention what you learned and why this piece is compelling.

Add your own two cents to demonstrate your critical thinking.

At other times, you’ll encounter an article that reminds you of a conversation you had with a specific client, colleague, or boss. Send it to them via email, both to add value and to let them know the conversation stayed with you.

Or maybe you’ve found something useful to a project your team is working on. Send it to that crew highlighting any specific points you found most valuable and worth testing out.

Have a shared learning experience

Opportunities for online learning abound. Platforms such as LinkedIn Learning, Coursera, Creative Live, and more offer thousands of virtual modules on topics ranging from business to vocation to language to hobbies and more.

If improving your written communication skills is at the top of your to-do list, Grammar Girl's LinkedIn learning course is a perfect place to start.

Ivy League universities are offering countless courses online for free. Or there are virtual coaching programs and certifications. You name it; it’s out there.

A joint learning experience can be a powerful way to build a meaningful and long-lasting connection among a group of any size.

Through these programs, you have the opportunity to join a virtual cohort. Alternatively, you can choose to pull together a group of your own friends or colleagues and all register together for a course. Each person in your crew can move through the learning experience at their own pace, but then you can host a weekly virtual group discussion to share insights, questions, and next steps.

My two best friends from college and I just registered for Yale University’s The Science of Well- Being course. And while Melissa lives in Philadelphia and Mick in Colorado, we’re looking forward to sharing this experience together. Just like old days!

A joint learning experience can be a powerful way to build a meaningful and long-lasting connection among a group of any size. So remember. If you’re feeling at all isolated or disconnected right now, there are steps you can take to build relationships and bring connection to the forefront.

What are you do doing right now to stay connected? I’d love to hear from you. Check the links in my bio for ways to get in touch.

About the Author

Rachel Cooke

Rachel Cooke is a leadership and workplace expert who holds her M.A. in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University. Founder of Lead Above Noise, she has been named a top 100 Leadership Speaker by Inc. Magazine and has been featured in Fast Company, The Huffington Post, and many more.