Online networking and new opportunities
Networking has always been a cornerstone in the foundations of my work.
Over the years, it has not only helped me to develop awareness for the charities I have represented, but also, allowed me to make important contacts, generate business, gain knowledge and even develop friendships.
However, as someone who is a wheelchair user, networking isn’t always easy.
I was born with cerebral palsy and have been a wheelchair user for over 20 years. Having previously worked with a charity that promoted disability awareness in the community, I now run my own social enterprise, Bascule Disability Training. Here we raise disability awareness and promote the many benefits of inclusivity through training programmes for businesses.
Networking is one of the elements of business development that I have always enjoyed the most, but when the Coronavirus triggered a national lockdown in March 2020, I (along with the rest of the country), became aware that everything had changed.
Suddenly, video conferencing became the new norm. Words like Zoom, Skype, Google Meet, Teams and Slack, were on everyone’s lips, and it became customary for meetings to take place from the nation’s spare rooms, makeshift offices and kitchen tables.
It didn’t take long for this revolution to trickle down to the world of networking, and whilst we all missed the morning coffees, face to face conversations and communal meals, online opportunities suddenly meant that venues needn’t be a prerequisite for a good networking session.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot to be said about meeting in a nice environment and chewing the fat face-to-face, but the coronavirus has revealed that, an online alternative can enable us to continue to make these essential connections. In fact, in many ways, such online meetings have actually extended networking’s potential.
However, for me, the biggest revelation has been that more and more people with disabilities can now easily access opportunities to network online, which is fantastic.
Online vs Venue Based Networking
To help you fully understand the difference between online and venue-based networking for someone with mobility issues, consider the following comparison. If I was to travel to a meeting, I would need to prepare the equipment in advance before loading it into the car, along with my wheelchair, and bag, I would prepare directions, assess the parking at the venue and whether it is accessible, prior to leaving, before briefly assessing the venue and looking online to consider accessibility in the building. If the meeting was an early start, rather than get up at an ungodly hour, I may consider traveling up the evening before and staying at the nearest suitable hotel, again paying great attention to the hotel’s parking and accessible rooms before booking.
Now consider that same meeting, with the same people present- but online. In this case, I would enter my office at home, open my laptop and log on to the meeting. The time spent on travel, the preparations, the cost and effort of getting to the venue, is so significant, that the impact on my productivity and time would be enormous.
Now, I want to make an important point here- I am not suggesting that people with disabilities should become restricted to online networking, and therefore be under further lockdown and limitation. As I have said, physical meetings have many benefits too, and everyone should, (when we return to some state of normality), consider meeting physically too, if one is able. I am however drawing this comparison to demonstrate the ways in which online meetings can remove many barriers, as well as the complexity and cost of getting to venues, for people with disabilities.
Online networking has allowed me to reach people in locations spread widely across the UK, that would have taken hours or even days of my time to meet, allowing me to develop some very strong contacts in unexplored areas. I have also even been able to join groups according to specific categories rather than regions or areas, so I have been communicating with people with exactly the right areas of interest. Obviously, the benefits of online meetings are not limited to those with disabilities. For example, I recently met with a group with members in Cornwall and Scotland, all in the same day. Now, I challenge anyone to leave their home and be able to attend a venue-based meeting in those two locations in a single working day- able bodied or not!
And the benefits for online meetings don’t end there. Of all the connections I have made, I continue to regularly catch up with everyone for online, 30-minute coffee sessions, without the travel or the loss of time. We simply connect, have a swift informal catch up, and then go about our day. No parking issues, no venue finding and definitely no traffic problems.
In fact, online networking has been so inspiring and has opened so many doors for me, that I decided to develop and launch an online training programme through Bascule Disability Training.
Since Winter in 2020, I have been reaching employees of many businesses through video conferencing tools to help them understand the business benefits of becoming inclusive by training small groups of staff online. Much like the networking, neither I – nor the participants- need to leave their office. They are now able to learn, and develop an understanding and awareness of disability, discovering how inclusivity can benefit business. I am also able to perform this training for a number of businesses (or for one single business) in one session, rather than travelling to an office HQ and focusing on one particular team.
In short- if there is one positive lesson that the Coronavirus has taught me, it’s that adapting to circumstance can present a fantastic opportunity -the opportunity to improve.
To book a date, or to find out more about Bascule Disability Training’s online sessions in 2021- CLICK HERE