Face-to-face communication has always held a crucial place in the business development process. But in the current environment, where building relationships in-person is extremely difficult, almost everything is being done digitally. This presents new challenges for firms looking to share their message.

Businesses are having to adapt quickly in order to survive and stay relevant in the long term; nurturing existing connections and establishing new ones are both central to sustainability. Companies must consider how they built relationships in a pre-Covid world, and how these strategies can be adjusted to work remotely.

At the heart of all business development – virtual or otherwise – is the question of what is important to your audience. To capture the attention of prospective clients, you have to speak their language, recognising the megatrends they are working with and offering unique insightIn this period of upheaval, the underlying needs and aspirations of businesses are in flux, and business leaders are looking for guidance – crucially, everyone wants to know what a post-Covid future will look like. Now more than ever, your thinking and your ideas are what will cut through and get you noticed. 

Tapping into the minds of your prospects virtually is challenging; whereas you’d usually bump into people at events and conferences, now the networking process isn’t quite so natural. However, businesses should take this as an opportunity to touch base with past connections. And, with remote working somewhat flattening hierarchical structures, there is the chance of gaining access to people that wouldn’t have been readily contactable before.

In a remote working environment, integrated marketing and communications has had to evolve. Virtual materials, such as starter emails, weblinks and blogs, are now the key tools to help cement your company’s messaging and build your visual identity.

Relationship building in the current climate is a learning process for everyone, but here are some of my top tips.

Luckily, there are still plenty of events going ahead virtually and, once you get past the slight awkwardness of introducing yourself from behind a computer screen, they’re a great opportunity. The removal of logistics concerns has made it easier for CEOs to find time in their busy schedules to join webinars, and new business prospects will potentially find it easier to get to know you through virtual events due to the reduced cost and time commitment on both sides.

And you don’t have to stop at just being an attendee. You can now create really compelling events because you can field your very best experts in any region or time zone – though, as a result, expectations on speaker quality have shot up! We may well see these high expectations stick as in-person events open up again.

Communication styles may have changed, but the fundamentals of relationship building have not. Although small talk can feel more challenging over email or video conference, these exchanges are still just as important for building rapport. In this time of upheaval, clients will appreciate you taking an interest in their lives. 

As valuable as small talk is, every conversation must have a clear purpose. Know your value proposition, make sure you make your USPs really obvious and get to the point quicker than you might face to face. Establishing a clear and honest narrative, built on a shared sense of purpose will build trust.

The process of business development is all about timing. Make sure to keep in touch before, during and after a meeting, and even if the opportunity to work together is not there at that time, the effort you’ve put into developing that relationship is never wasted. If you can stay on their radar, there may be the possibility of collaboration in the future.

When holding meetings virtually, interpersonal factors, such as smiling and using people’s names, become even more important to build a connection. When pitching, try to work in opportunities for clients to interact with you, rather than just listening to you speak. And, most importantly, make it bespoke; everything you cover should ultimately come back to how you can add value to their business. 

It’s important to remember that although the majority of business interactions are currently virtual, opportunities for face-to-face conversations are gradually opening up again – make the most of these where you can.

In many ways, the blurring of professional and personal boundaries means that we are building more authentic relationships with clients. As important as it is to consider your backdrop and how you present yourself in a professional manner, if a family member accidentally appears on a call don’t let it interrupt your stride – we are all in the same boat.

Now is not the time to put networking on the back burner. We all have to adapt in order to stay connected and keep moving forward. 

In recent months, many things have changed. There are now restrictions on where you can go, what you can do and when you can do it. Coronavirus has changed the way that we live our lives, including the way we work. Like the majority of businesses across the UK, we have swiftly adapted to home working, with kitchens turning into break rooms and living rooms turning into home offices. Despite this very easy commute for the new home worker and the opportunity for increased flexibility in working styles, these changes have also had some negative impacts.

According to the CIPD, 44% of work-related ill health this year has been due to stress, depression or anxiety (CIPD, 2020). This isn’t something that should be taken lightly and so, at Man Bites Dog, we recently hosted a Virtual Health and Happiness Day. The day gave the team the opportunity to switch on their out of office, and switch off their stresses with some scheduled time to look after ourselves.

It began with secret packages being delivered to the homes of all the Dogs the night before. We felt like children on Christmas Eve, waiting at the door for gifts to arrive. The mystery parcels contained a schedule for the next day's activities, face masks and essential oils to kick off the calming process that night, flowers, and a few other treats including an incredible food parcel for lunch the next day. I took some time to read through the agenda on Thursday evening and it was amazing to find two hours set aside for exercise first thing, with the only condition being to send pictures to the rest of the team. Jade, our Senior Copywriter, took her dog for a windy seafront walk and Ally, a Divisional Director, shared photos of a home workout. One of our Consultants Gina teamed up with one of our Executives Ellie, to do a yoga and balance class. It was great to see what everyone got up to in the morning, being given the gift of time to work out and release some endorphins.

Our first team session of the day was a Happy Heads Meditation & Emotional Freedom Technique workshop with Kim (@happyheads.me). This workshop taught us how to meditate and reset different areas of our brain. We learnt to balance the logical parts of our brains with the emotional, restoring balance. We also learnt about the prefrontal cortex and amygdala and how we can mollify our instinctive reactions to situations. A lot of us admitted that meditation and mindfulness wasn’t something that we had given much time to before, so having a dedicated hour to practise was very beneficial – and something that I have tried to incorporate into my daily routine.

We then broke for lunch, tucking into a delicious graze box from Flying Saucer (find them at the Brighton Open Market). It was great to be able to support other local businesses all at the same time – especially by eating cake.

Afterwards, we had a session with Sanderson Jones – a comedian, keynote speaker and social entrepreneur – to discuss working from home and how to feel more connected. We brainstormed different ways that the team can socialise and stay connected while adhering to new government guidelines and being safe. Popular ideas included organising walks, starting a book club or even just grabbing a cake on a Friday lunchtime. Sanderson demonstrated how these ideas don't have to be big or crazy to boost morale and contribute to company culture.

We finished the day with a session from our CEO, Claire Mason, to discuss the progress we’ve made as a company over the past year: what we have achieved, the new members of the pack that have joined us, and reflected on how the business has adapted in the face of a global pandemic. Meetings are now Zoom calls, and emails and Slack messages are now our primary form of communication. However, we have stuck together as a business, supporting each other through house moves, childcare and absent family and friends. It is great to work for a business that looks after each other and prioritises health and wellbeing, as well as delivering world-class work.

Thank you MBD family.

It’s been close to 18 months now since I joined Man Bites Dog, making the 260 mile trip from Leeds to become part of the team in the Brighton office. Life was a fair bit different when I started. Excited by the promise of a city-centre working space, I’d turn up for work from Monday to Friday commuting via bike along the seafront. For the past 12 weeks however, much like the rest of the country, I have found myself working from home, having not seen my colleagues in the flesh and with no more bike rides to start the day.

As an avocado-on-toast and craft beer loving millennial, I carry many of the typical traits that made the idea of working for Man Bites Dog an attractive prospect in the first place; I enjoy flexibility, I’m environmentally-conscious, and I’m technologically savvy. Man Bites Dog values flexible working and is understanding of the challenges we face, not just in the workplace, but in our home lives too. We’re very much equipped with the technology we need to do award-winning work, and we are environmentally conscious, something that stretches far beyond our recycling efforts in the office, but to our work with our clients as well.

These company morals have meant that, fortunately, the transition from the office to working-from-home has been seamless, with only the odd technical difficulty and the popular feeling of ‘Zoom fatigue’ attempting to stand in our way. The attitude of the business has been to put our health and safety first, meaning that although a return to the office is under discussion, there’s no pressure on us to make an immediate decision.

As we pass the three-month mark of what has now very much become the ‘the new normal’, it’s given us time to reflect on how we like to work, and what we see the future of work looking like. Of course, there’s so much we miss about how our working lives used to look. As visitors to our Brighton office will know, it is a fantastic space to meet and collaborate, as well as being a great social space. Additionally, our office is home to plenty of ideas brainstorms, and importantly, office biscuits.

As the light begins to appear at the end of the tunnel, with a return to the office on the horizon, we have been reflecting on the last three months and what we have learnt from consistent working-from-home.

For my colleague Sabrina Mundy, a Senior Consultant at Man Bites Dog, no longer having to commute from home to the office has opened up hours of free time. “On average I probably have four hours extra a day, which has allowed me to do a lot more exercise - mostly running - as well as a lot of baking too!” That’s a fifth of Sabrina’s day that’s been freed up by the forced change to her working schedule, which is a significant amount of time that she has put to good use, even if we haven’t been able to enjoy her recent bakes just yet!

For Megan Reynolds, Consultant, who joined Man Bites Dog after lockdown had begun, working from home has brought her some surprising advantages. “It goes without saying that there have been obvious disadvantages to starting a job during such strange times, but home working has meant I’ve been able to settle into my new home and focus on getting everything ready for when we return to the office. Being able to start working in the office feeling settled and already a part of the Man Bites Dog team (thanks to many virtual meetings) means I can hit the ground running without all of the distractions that come with relocating and starting a new role.”

Man Bites Dog embraced home-working prior to the pandemic. Many members of the pack would spend a day or so at home, while others would be out of the office for longer stretches to cater for periods such as school holidays. On the flipside however, the majority of the pack chose to work from the office regularly, which was of course, encouraged. But with the forced shift in working patterns proving not only to be possible, but also practical, and the change to our day highlighting the potential benefits of working from home for staff, it begs the question of what new behaviours we’ve learnt and how we want to work moving forward.

I, for one, felt unsettled by the prospect of working from home initially, more for my comfort than anything else. With no designated spot to work from in my flat, and with my three other flatmates now also needing to work from home too, questions I’ve never considered since working at Man Bites Dog started to crop up, with the main one being “Where am I going to sit?”

With the help of our IT director Steve, and the luck of finding a sturdy desk free-to-a-good-home on the road a few doors down (I kid you not), I was able to set up my own little space to work, and I’ve enjoyed it ever since. It’s quiet, comfortable and efficient, and I’m enjoying the benefits of being able to cook my lunch at home rather than relying on eating out or packed lunches.

Although many of our staff are seeing real benefits of home working, others are not. For many, going to the office isn’t just a case of going to work, but a place to see friends, socialise and work collaboratively, where we can huddle in a room and scribble our ideas on the wall. The office also provides the perfect place to escape the challenges and distractions of home life, and find a place to focus.

Lauren Street, Principal Consultant, says that working from home and the shut down of the economy has brought new challenges. “Becoming a stay-at-home single parent as well as a full-time worker all at the same time was quite overwhelming at first. It's only due to the flexibility we have as a team and support all round, from the leadership team and from other colleagues, that I was able to make everything work. And now that my son has been able to go back to nursery it’s relieved pressures further. I am looking forward to being able to return to the office to have face-to-face interactions with colleagues again, and resume my work and home-life balance.”

For the near future, the office will of course not serve the same purpose as it did when we left it. Many restrictions will be in place, including one-way systems, hand sanitising stations at every corner, and restrictions on how many people are able to work in the office at once. But one thing is for sure, when the day arrives the reopening of the office will be a welcome boost for everyone at Man Bites Dog. Only time will tell what it’s purpose will be moving forward, but I, for one, look forward to working my way through those office biscuits again!

Working from home

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