LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — The pandemic changed many people’s working environments. Some are on a hybrid model, others permanently working from home remotely.

So, how do you nurture relationships with colleagues working from home, and how does one advance in one’s career in a virtual environment?

Jake Elsen is the chief operating officer for “SAE Institute, North America”. He is based in Las Vegas but oversees the operations of half a dozen US campus locations and one in British Columbia.

When the pandemic hit, he transitioned to fully remote.

“I went from visiting my teams every other month or quarterly to not seeing folks and those in Canada now for over a year,” Elsen said.

Managing an operation with more than 10,000 students, Elsen needed to remain connected.

“With many of us, Zoom happy hours seemed to be a good way to push past the Zoom fatigue & really spend some quality time socializing and re-establishing relationships,” Elsen said.

Kimberly B. Cummings gives about 50 speaking engagements a year on how to successfully advance in your career. She says it is all about relationships and says even in a virtual world, you still need to cultivate your network.

“You have to be intentional, that’s the hardest part,” Cummings said. “There are four key relationships that every professional needs.”

Peers, teachers, mentors and sponsors.

“Key difference between mentors and sponsors: sponsors have influence to pull you from where you are, to where you would like to be,” Cummings said. “Sometimes sponsors can be mentors, but not every mentor can be a sponsor, because they may not have the influence needed, to help expedite your career.”

It is not too difficult to identify the “power-players” in your work environment.

“Generally, they’re the person who speaks at all the conferences. They’re the ones selected for key projects,” Cummings said. “There is generally a buzz about them when they walk into the room. If you are unsure of who that person is, I definitely would ask around.”

But how do you maintain all these different relationships in a virtual environment?

“When you’ve been in that zoom meeting and you end ten minutes early, who would you have walked to go get coffee with? Ask them to hop on a quick call, or slack them, to keep up to date,” Cummings said. “All the mentors you loved seeing once a month in elevator and had a great conversation, reach out to them, to have a 15-minute check-in, look for all those incidental moments.”

Elsen says it was important for his colleagues to incorporate some levity as well.

“Friday rockstar bingo sessions, even during holidays, a virtual white elephant, fun ways to stay connected,” Elsen said.

As for networking, Cummings says today it is all about deepening the existing relationships you have.

“The tip I always give folks, when you are on a virtual event, see who is the busiest on the chat, see who is the most engaged, who can you connect with, ask a question yourself — great way to shine a light on yourself,” Cummings said. “Take it offline, ask someone to debrief with you for fifteen minutes about the event that just happened.”

Cummings says her biggest fear is that introverts will be left behind in some aspect of virtual work. She says they will have to work even harder at initiating relationships and contacts.