Tom Gibson, founder of Melville-based networking group Interchange Business Organization,...

Tom Gibson, founder of Melville-based networking group Interchange Business Organization, participates in a videoconference with members of the group from his home. Credit: Anthony Lombardo

Networking is normally done with a handshake, but amid coronavirus shutdowns and social distancing many regional networking groups are looking to alternative means to adapt.

This is especially necessary given New York’s mandate that establishments like restaurants, where groups traditionally meet, can only offer take-out services.

Even before that order, local networking groups were  making contingency plans  to use things  such as videoconferencing and traditional conferencing calls to stay connected.

“I think it [networking] is going to evolve pretty quickly,” said Eric Groves, CEO of Boston-based Alignable, an online small business referral network with more than 4.5 million members.

Technology has made it simpler to connect, and businesses should utilize those resources to stay connected, he said.

“It’s very easy to get consumed with all the horrific things happening… but we need to focus towards the recovery,” he said, noting interaction is still important.

“There’s something soothing about being able to look someone in the eyes,” said Groves.

Ellen Volpe (in the upper left square - her name...

Ellen Volpe (in the upper left square - her name shows in the photo), president of Huntington Station-based American Business Associates of Long Island, with ABA members on a Zoom videoconference call. Credit: Ellen Volpe

And that can still be accomplished via tools like videoconferencing, he said, noting his own team is doing that via Google Hangouts.

Adrian Miller of Adrian Miller Sales Training in Port Washington and founder of Adrian’s Network, a networking organization with about 400 members, changed face-to-face networking meetings  last week over to Zoom videoconferencing meetings and/or a conference call.

They typically do three to four networking calls monthly anyway and about four in-person meetings monthly.

But meetings for now will go virtual. Virtual networking breakfasts and happy hours start this week. 

Tom Gibson, founder of Melville-based networking group Interchange Business Organization, which has 21 teams that normally meet in-person weekly, has  made a shift too.

 IBO  has instituted Zoom videoconferencing meetings and sent out email instructions to the teams on how to facilitate them. . 

“People need to adjust with the current times,” he said. His group had 35 people on a recent Web meeting.  "What was so great," he said, "were the stories everyone shared about how things were going in the midst of the coronavirus.  People were talking about more family time and staying active."

  Many people are finding the Web video chats a great way to stay connected with their colleagues and clients he said, noting many IBO members plan to use this new format as part of their business model going forward.

The Unicorn Network, a millennial business group, had planned to meet last week  at a Westbury restaurant, founder Jillian Weston said,

but instead about 15-20 members  met at  her house and later may turn to videoconferencing if necessary.

“We’re doing what we can to keep the network connected and stay supportive of each other during this difficult time,” said Weston.

Peter Goldsmith, chairman of technology advocacy group Plainview-based LISTnet, said many of its committee groups like a CEO group already met for the month. They also held a hackathon and networking event a couple of weeks ago and postponed a tech event they had scheduled for June until the fall. And nothing new has been scheduled given current circumstances.

“We all have to be smart,” said Goldsmith.

And that includes networking smarter, says Ellen Volpe, president of Huntington Station-based American Business Associates of Long Island, which has 12 chapters and 200-plus members.

Individual chapters have gone to videoconferencing through Zoom, and they have had an Intranet portal since January where members can connect, make requests, etc.

She also invited members to an ABA Zoom virtual happy hour last Friday.

Everyone’s navigating new waters, Volpe said, and “since there’s no playbook, the best we can do is stay connected.” 

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