For thousands of people the reward for their early morning start to get to a networking meeting is a cooked breakfast, gallons of coffee and an hour or more of conversation about the ups and downs of commercial life.
That was until late March, when gatherings were banned, and the lockdown began. Now most networking groups have migrated online. In place of a real venue, Microsoft Teams and Zoom have become the most popular platforms for virtual get togethers. But they are a pale imitation of the popular events they have replaced where crowds gathered and got to know each other.
“There’s a growing fatigue with online meetings. They are OK, but no substitute for meeting and talking with people in the same room,” says Mark Barclay of St James’s Place Wealth Management.
Mark Barclay is now a leader for a new networking concept which seems tailor-made for our pandemic world. He is hosting Oxford’s Natural Netwalking events, which he says is an idea which could not be simpler. “People get together, walk and talk about business and build relationships. It is a relaxed way to get to know people and you get some fresh air at the same time” he explains. “During a walk there’s plenty of time to get to know people. It is much more stimulating to be sharing something like a walk. People are much more open, and you can get to know and understand and trust people you walk with. And that is great for business.”
Natural Netwalking was created by Jackie Jarvis and Dawn Lillington, two Oxfordshire women who run their own businesses and share a passion for hiking.
“It’s an idea whose time really has come” says Jackie Jarvis. “Business people walking together, having relaxed conversations, and getting to know each other is absolutely perfect for today’s situation. A walk at any pace is good for the mind, good for the body and it can be good for business too. During lockdown people have recognised the importance of staying healthy and walking has been the most accessible and popular way to exercise. It’s been good for staying fit, but also to maintain good mental health.”
“Homeworking has worked out for many, but excessive screen time and isolation is bad for physical and mental health” Dawn Lillington explains. “So, any business which has staff taking exercise is going to experience the benefits of better general health and wellbeing, all achieved while networking. That’s why we expect this to be really popular.”
According to Jackie, their participation shows how people have really grabbed the idea. There are Netwalks taking place across Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Buckinghamshire with new locations opening all the time. The walks all take place either early start, mid-morning or at lunchtime.
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