woman on laptop at home
From sharpening your personal brand virtually to consistently following up with your connections, there are many effective ways to network from the comfort of your own home. — Getty Images/MundusImages

Happy hours are canceled. Meetup events are online. Skill-share lunches are entirely virtual.

Working from home is the new normal for the foreseeable future. While remote work comes with more freedom and flexibility, it's not exactly a natural environment to cultivate professional connections.

Great professional networking is easy when you’re in an office environment, surrounded by professional contacts and opportunities to connect. When you're working from home, it's up to you to foster those relationships. Here's how you can maintain your connections and cultivate new ones from a safe distance.

Where do you start?

Whether you're in sales, recruitment or starting your own business, effective networking gives you access to personal and professional advice. It can provide technical information you need, cultural and political insight, and a sense of community — a massive benefit if you're working alone.

Start to think about what you want to accomplish with these interactions. As you build your career, networking plays an essential role in understanding and deciding what to do next. You can foster an environment of mentorship and camaraderie.

Then, make a wishlist of people with whom you want to connect. Once you know your goals, identify colleagues, professors, mentors and senior managers you can approach. Make a list of people you admire in your industry or profession and look for notable, respected individuals outside your circle. The goal is to enrich your career with exciting and new conversations — don't hover in your comfort zone.

[Read more: How to Network ... the Right Way]

Reconnect with your existing network

The ongoing pandemic offers a good excuse to reconnect and check in with your existing professional contacts. Take a few minutes a day to contact people from whom you may not have heard recently. Ask how they're coping and if there's anything you can do. Approach each interaction with care and compassion, not as an opportunity for self-promotion.

Once you reach out to someone, follow up by being helpful. Know someone is looking to expand their team? Send them an article about how to hire virtually. Better yet, if you know someone suitable for the position, create a new connection.

The most important thing here is to be genuine. Naturally, you're cultivating these networks to serve your interests, but it can't be one-sided. Don't underestimate your unique set of skills; they'll add value to someone else's toolkit.

Whether it's a call, email or virtual coffee date, you have to follow up with the connections you make.

Create a personal brand

Make the most of LinkedIn by thoroughly updating your profile. Ask contacts for recommendations, join groups you're interested in and engage with other people's posts. Use the platform to make yourself as visible as possible.

Create an email signature. When you're reaching out to people remotely, you need to frame your brand in the best light. You want to look professional and competent. Best of all, this makes it easy to locate your contact information.

Refine your elevator pitch. Traditionally used for face-to-face or live interactions, your 30-second introduction needs to live digitally. This is something you can use as you reach out to new contacts on your wish list, and also to remind contacts of your worth. Add it to your social media profiles and practice pitching it over the phone.

[Read more: The 6 Elements of a Successful Personal Brand]

Use online resources to establish yourself as an expert

Getting your name or company mentioned in the media is an immediate victory when it comes to networking. If you're a new business, you have to get your name out there proactively.

Sign up as a source on Help A Reporter Out (HARO) and look out for opportunities. Ensure you only reach out when you're speaking from a place of authority. You don't want to bombard them if it's not relevant. Be patient and reach out for the right piece. It'll drive better connections.

Look at starting a podcast. These days, podcasts aren't just for entertainment. They can be a great way to connect with people in your industry, the ultimate informational interview.

Utilize existing channels to communicate and collaborate. One of the best tools for this is Slack. Whether it's an internal discussion, a remote team, or a freelancer or client conversation, create networking channels. You can also request to join Slack communities like Workfrom, adding to your network.

Follow up

Whether it's a call, email or virtual coffee date, you have to follow up with the connections you make. Create a set process so you don't forget to touch base. Don't be afraid to reach out. In reality, your connections are working remotely, too, and probably just as excited for some interaction.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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CO—is committed to helping you start, run and grow your small business. Learn more about the benefits of small business membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, here.

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