Build a support network to help you thrive in the new world of work

As the gig economy gains momentum, employees and employers need to adapt to the changing nature of working together.

In 2016, across Europe and America, McKinsey Global Institute found that 20-30% of people in the workplace take part in independent work – even if they already have a primary job. So how do you find the right, specialised professionals to join you on particular projects? And now that organisational silos are becoming less viable models, how do you ensure you can progress your career and development? How can you get the same kinds of ‘promotions’, without those systems?

The answer, is to not do it all alone. Building strong, trustworthy relationships with people will become ever more important as advancements in robotics and AI become more intertwined with our work practices. And, whether you’re a long-term employee or a contracted freelancer, the experience of flexible working can be isolating, making your networks your most valuable tool for engaging with, and developing alongside, others in the workplace.

Serious socialising

Building networks is incredibly social. It might seem like work but it’s not simply about making as many contacts as possible; it’s about finding and nurturing good relationships, with the right people for you. Set yourself some goals, but approach them (and people) in a relaxed manner; try to be yourself and you’ll make the connections you need to achieve those greater career goals.

To give you some ideas on where and how you can build and leverage your support networks, we’ve gathered a few practical tips:

1. Reconnect with those you know

Remember the people who attended an orientation session with you? Or the colleague you met at a company function, from a different department? These are some of the informal networks you should be tapping in to and at EY, we actively encourage it in all our new starters – whether graduates, interns or experienced professionals.

They’re people with similar interests to you, but they’ll also have different experiences and contacts that you may be able to benefit from. Where possible, organise informal catch-ups and share your work experiences, or learn more about what goes on in other parts of a business. Who knows what opportunities a simple conversation can present?

2. Explore groups and networks you’re already connected to

Consider what cultural, social or interest groups are available to you. At EY, we have a vast number of diverse and inclusive networks established and nurtured by our employees, which you can find out more about here.

Hardeep Kundan is a Recruitment Advisor and the Chair of EY Sikh Network. She knows all too well how beneficial networking can be. Speaking of the EY Sikh Network, she says, “It supports the firm’s diversity and inclusive strategy, and connects individuals across the business to help develop and empower them to achieve their full potential.”

As the largest professional Sikh network within an organisation in the UK, it has opened up incredible doors for Hardeep. “I have personally made some fantastic external contacts, one being a Director at a technology membership organisation whose members include some of the leading tech brands out there.

“My role in the EY Sikh Network has had a very positive impact on my development too. For example, while we were involved in the Vaisakhi celebrations with the Greater London Authority, I was asked to introduce Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, onto the stage! This was a real honour for me and has certainly given me more confidence when presenting to my stakeholders at work.”

But it’s also proved invaluable for her colleagues too, “We’ve been able to connect a number of people through our events because they’re talking to people they wouldn’t usually interact with on a daily basis.”

So take a look at the groups and networks around you and consider how you can get involved. You never know what doors they might open for you.

3. Seek out a mentor

We know networking isn’t for everyone. However, having one or two really strong connections can be enough to help you develop and adapt to change – both inside and outside work. Buddies and mentors are incredibly important when you’re new to a position, but people often stop nurturing these relationships once they’ve discarded the ‘training wheels’. If you’re new to a business or a project, identify a more-experienced team member and ask if you can come to them with any extra questions you might have. Or if you’ve had a mentor in a previous role or company, try keeping in touch even if it’s via email. The likelihood is your mentor or buddy will have experienced similar situations, or challenges as you are facing.

You could also try becoming a mentor yourself. The benefits travel both ways, and as a mentor you’ll not only become part of another network, you’ll add to your skill set.

4. Find value for your skills in new places

While some people in the workplace are successful because they channel all of their skills into one role, others are successful because they realise the adaptive value of their skills. Consider the ways you can tap into all of your talents and apply them to developing your career. You might identify elements that need more training (yet another place to network!), but you might also find that you discover interests in another industry that requires your skills.

Look outside of your current role, business or industry. Where else are you interested in working and do you know anyone who might have contacts in that field? Consult contacts on social media sites from LinkedIn to Twitter and you never know what you might uncover. And on that note…

5. Tap into your social networks

While social networks are not the first place we suggest you strike up professional connections (LinkedIn being the exception), they can be really useful – and we don’t just mean online either. There are opportunities for you to gather ideas and contacts from all of the social events you’re part of – so long as it’s not your primary reason for attending.

Social media platforms can also be incredibly valuable too. The more you share with people your curiosity for new or different interests, the more likely people will think of you when they hear of opportunities that come up.  

The old-fashioned way

One key way of networking is to attend networking events as often as you can. It’s an old-fashioned method, but it’s one that gives people immediate impressions of who you are, and how your interests have brought you together. Look out for events on Meetup and Eventbrite, but also ask your friends – do they join networking events too?

It’s important to have a goal in mind when you’re at these events. It might not be to immediately get a job, but set a goal to make at least three connections, for example. Or aim to discover as much as you can about a new field of work.

It really is who you know

Meeting people, and building genuine connections with them, is essential for everyone in today’s changing workplace. It doesn’t so much matter how you know someone, or even how well you know them, it simply matters that you’re in contact. By meeting people and joining networks, you gain new perspectives, feel more connected and create an emotional base and familiarity while reinforcing relationships of trust. And be careful never to discard a connection you make – you never know who they may know, or if the contact may come in handy in the future!