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Study Identifies “Significant Decreases” in Personal Networks During COVID-19 Pandemic

  • Study finds “significant decreases” in network density and global network size between 2019 and 2020
  • People turn more to family connections than friends or colleagues during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Experts say continuing active networking efforts is crucial even when face-to-face interactions are more difficult

Finding and maintaining professional relationships has long been a key part of how businesses grow. You’d be hard-pressed to find a chamber of commerce that doesn’t hold regular “business after hours” events to help members connect, and plenty of other trade organizations and business groups host similar gatherings. These networking opportunities allow entrepreneurs to form partnerships, find vendors, and promote their business.

Such events all but evaporated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Bringing dozens of people together to mingle and discuss business matters became less feasible under social distancing requirements, although many organizations have gamely pursued virtual meet-ups as a way to foster connections.

Despite those efforts, researchers at Yale University recently determined that there have been “significant decreases” in network density and global network size between June 2019 and June 2020. The diminished networks occurred even as the more stringent lockdown measures were lifted by the summer of 2020, since remote work arrangements were more common and social distancing and mask wearing requirements remained in place.

The study polled 418 participants form the Yale community in June 2019, with 189 completing the follow-up response the next year. Researchers found that while the number of close and very close ties in respondents’ core networks didn’t change significantly, the composition shifted away from friends and colleagues toward family members.

This was consistent with previous studies that show people are more likely to “turtle up” and focus on their stronger connections during crises or stress. Researchers also determined that videoconferencing, text-based communication, and other networking methods were less effective in reducing loneliness than face-to-face interaction.

Failing to maintain a robust professional network can lead to a variety of challenges for workers and business owners. These include reduced creativity, difficulty finding a job or earning a promotion, decreased identification with a company, and a higher risk of employee turnover.

Experts are encouraging people to maintain connections with more casual acquaintances to help strengthen their personal networks. In addition to using online tools to make connections, recommendations include follow-up communication and actively attempting to increase your professional contacts.

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