Traditionally, professional networks include colleagues, industry connections and future employers.

Yet in a world that runs on digital and where jobs are becoming more interdisciplinary and cross-functional, professional networks are naturally becoming more dynamic. The modern shape of these networks mirrors the ever evolving future of work.

In a previous post we've discussed how to cultivate and grow your professional network, which requires some thinking outside the box. This article will illustrate the nature of professional networks of the future as well as recommended tools to catalyze modern networking.

Virtual communities

According to UpWork, a leading freelance work platform, the growth of freelance work has outpaced overall U.S. workforce growth by 3x since 2014. Within a decade, freelancers are expected to become the majority.

Additionally CNN Money reported last year that an estimated 44 million Americans have side hustles. The vast majority of these workers either deliver their work or communicate with their customers virtually.

This trend extends to the traditional office environment as well. Even the world’s largest and most venerable companies are embracing remote working as more and more employees prefer it. More importantly, these companies understand the value of remote work as it helps improve employee retention and eliminate waste.

As more of us conduct work virtually, our professional networks flourish virtually as well. Whether it’s connecting over Skype with a customer or colleague thousands of miles away or joining a group on a networking platform, our ties rely on these virtual connections. It’s important to create and maintain a professional online to represent you and your work.

Global reach

Professional networks are no longer isolated by industry or geography. Connections are no longer only made within the confines of an office or an event. Largely thanks to social media, we are all now globally connected - there are more than 433 million members on LinkedIn, spanning 200 countries.

You can now forge meaningful global connections from your desk, without the need for travel. However, when networking online, don’t simply hit 'connect' with anyone you happen to know in a foreign country. Do your research first to see who you really want to connect with. Better yet, if you already know someone abroad, make sure you’re connected with them to network with any relevant people they know. Going through someone you already know leads to a warmer introduction.

If you do reach out to a cold connection, make sure to craft a personalized subject line in the invitation. Something as simple and direct as 'Connecting from New York' is better than a default 'Invitation to connect' subject line.

Also, make sure you include a question that will prompt a conversation. The goal isn’t to simply increase your number of connections on social media, but to learn from one another and open up opportunities.

If you travel abroad for work or for pleasure make an effort to meet people. Even if your interactions don’t bear any professional networking intentions, new friends may provide a conduit to global connections in your field or area of interest.

Perhaps the most important aspect about global professional networks is perspective. We often learn and borrow best practices and ideas from other cultures.

Weak ties

Some of the best connections and opportunities come from our weak ties. In other words, contacts of those close to you.

In her book, The Defining Decade, psychologist Meg Jay describes weak ties as: “People we have met, or are connected to somehow, but do not currently know well. Weak ties are also our former employers or professors and other associations not promoted to close friends … Weak ties give us access to something fresh … like bridges you cannot see all the way across, so there is no telling where they might lead.”

Jay postulates that leveraging weak ties is especially crucial for young people forging new paths in their careers.

While the concept of weak ties may not be new to professional networking, it now dominates in the digital era. Don’t be shy to start a conversation with your weak ties as it is perfectly normal and acceptable in today’s professional networks.

New tools for professional networking

At Guild, we’re busy building an app exclusively for professional networking. One that takes the convenience and seamlessness messaging features of WhatsApp and couples it with heightened security fit for protecting proprietary information.

Modern, targeted tools like Guild - along with other platforms such as LinkedIn Sales Navigator and CircleBack - will enhance your modern networks beyond the access of basic social media accounts.

Networking is a crucial part of building and developing your career. Make the most of your contacts and connections to accelerate your career progression and explore new opportunities.

Photo by Hans-Peter Gauster on Unsplash.

Try Guild now for free ?

Guild is free to use up to 30 members, across as many groups as you want. Just click on 'Start Free' on the Basic Plan on our pricing page now to set up your free account and start inviting people in. Contact us if you want to know more or have questions.