Networking doesn't quite look the same these days, but they're making it work.
The Longboat Key Chamber of Commerce gathered its members for a social event on June 12, the first in months.
But no one hugged, shook hands or traded business cards.
No one was in the same room.
About a dozen members logged onto Zoom for a social hour called “Finally Friday,” named after a newsletter that president Gail Loefgren began sending to her members while navigating the new world in COVID-19 quarantine.
Loefgren encouraged her members to grab their favorite breakfast beverage and log on to network and catch up with their fellow Chamber folks in a format similar to the groups “Networking @ Noon” luncheons and “Business After Hours” cocktail events.
“I do think there's something missing when we're not able to actually physically be near,” member Lael Hazan said. “I think as humans, we want to be in each other's presence. But I think this is great as we figure it out.”
The technical difficulties were not so many that the meeting was derailed at any point, though the digital connections of a couple members froze in the middle of sentences.
Everyone went through and introduced themselves, their businesses and what they’ve done to adapt to life in a global pandemic. Hazan, a travel advisor with Gracious Getaways, set her Zoom background to the Italian villa she was supposed to be staying in if not for COVID-19, drawing sympathetic chuckles from the other screens.
Others commiserated over working from home, happy to be back in the office where all files are organized. A few shared the scary moments from the pandemic, when they weren’t shut down but business had stopped, and more shared how customers are behaving now that things are opening up.
Overall, despite the fact that only one person could talk at a time, and side conversations weren't really possible, there was plenty of sharing and caring at the virtual event.
“I really appreciate doing it and I hope that it’ll continue,” Hazan said. “I think it's a good way of being able to gauge how we're doing, because we often are so wrapped up with our own industry and our own experiences, so it's good to come together as a community, so we can judge each other and see how to assist each other.”
As members got chatting for the first time in months, they shared ways they are and have been helping each other. The coronavirus pandemic is still a very real worry for many, as a recent Chamber survey found that 26.9% of respondents were still waiting before attending large gatherings and 25.8% said they may not attend any for the rest of the year.
Nonetheless, the Chamber will transition back to some in-person events in July, starting with a luncheon at the Bridge Street Bistro in Bradenton Beach.
“The rest of 2020 is going to be nutty,” Loefgren said. “We will prevail at some point, we just have to hang together and stay Chamber Strong.”
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