Personally, I hate online business networking. It might just be me being grumpy, but I have not really enjoyed any of the online events I have attended since COVID forced networking online. Not being able to attend networking in person has revealed the benefits to me of face-to-face networking that I took for granted.

You can choose whom you speak to – with online networking you are thrown into a breakout room. It’s true that it’s great to meet new people but this forced randomness is hard to swallow when your approach to networking is strategic.

You’re not really you – When you meet new people you have a chance, and time, to build a rapport, make a joke, share an observation about the venue etc. This is hard to do with stilted online conversations. It is hard to not feel isolated and very separate from everyone else which does not allow you to start to build the rapport and relationships you’re there to do.

Real conversations flow – online conversations, even between two people are stunted as mics and speakers can not cope with simultaneous speakers, natural interruptions of each other are much more disruptive than in reality and group conversation is frankly painful.

You cannot read body language – it is very hard when looking at people through teams or zoom to read them, let alone the room. Whilst it is OK for people you know already meeting strangers is more difficult.

You are literally not IN THE ROOM – so many of the people I see networking online just don’t look like they want to be there. No one is especially engaging and those that are having to over-egg their enthusiasm because we are all disconnected. It is easy to do other work, check your phone, or get distracted by dogs, kids, deliveries. It takes a huge amount of discipline to be 100% in the room when in reality you’re not.

Subconsciously judging backgrounds – even if someone has chosen a professional backdrop you just can not help but judge people’s backgrounds, bedrooms, offices, or kitchens. While a more relaxed way of working is to be applauded and working from home becomes the norm it’s another factor that detracts from the business to strategic networking.

Awkward follow-up – In reality, you can catch someone you didn’t get the chance to speak to and arrange a call or coffee, a quite natural thing to do. However, a follow-up from a chance ‘glimpse’ at an online event feels inappropriate somehow. It’s that loss of personal interaction and being able to read that person’s reaction to your introduction and suggestion of a call.

I have not found an argument for online networking over face-to-face that holds any water for me, except geography. You can join any networking group throughout the world – but what is the value in that unless you’re in a global market. We offer our services nationwide, but we have a natural local focus in Oxfordshire, and if I want to network in London or Birmingham, I would prefer to spend the time getting there and attend in person. The benefits would far outweigh the time and budget getting there.

I wonder if there is any research on the effectiveness of online networking v face-to-face? How many hours of zoom time do you need to put in to reach the equivalent benefit of an hour face-to-face?

Perhaps it’s the groups that demand attendance that online networking works for best. It saves you time and effort EVERY week travelling to a venue to meet the same people, week-in-week-out but if it’s an annual, monthly or more casual networking event I for one want to be there.

Does online business networking work for you? Am I just being old and grumpy? My colleagues certainly think so.