Face-to-face networking has become one of the casualties of COVID-19. Luncheons, oyster roasts, seminars, trade shows and all the other staples of the professional networking circuit have gone into hiatus.

Shaking hands, as it turns out, is one of the primary activities to be avoided during a pandemic.

In its place, we now have video conferencing, which gives us an opportunity to gather not in the same room but on the same screen at such a safe distance from one another that the only virus we risk is of the computer variety.

Zoom has become the most popular option for these video conferences. Some professionals loathe Zoom and are frustrated by the prospect of this being their only networking opportunity for the time being.

While it’s true that a video conference seems like a somewhat watered down and soulless version of a face-to-face meeting, perhaps it’s time to reevaluate our attitude toward this new reality.

It turns out this video option offers some distinct advantages. In fact, it presents some unprecedented networking opportunities, and once you appreciate these advantages you might never want to return to the old method of networking.

First, and most important, distance becomes irrelevant with video conferencing, which means an entire universe of networking opportunities is now accessible through your smart phone or other device. Have you ever wondered how your product or service would be received by people in Topeka or Des Moines? Go online, find a chamber of commerce or Business Network International (BNI) meeting in your target location, and secure an invitation to their next Zoom conference. There’s no travel expense and no overnight stay in a budget hotel. You can do in one or two hours what would have normally taken one or two entire days.

Membership in BNI comes with access to chapters anywhere in the world. Until now, that benefit has been of little practical value for many professionals who don’t have the travel budget or the time to visit distant locations.

However, shortly after the first shelter-in-place orders went into effect, BNI converted to Zoom. Now members are free to roam the planet, with the opportunity to pitch services in places that one might never would have otherwise considered.

Thanks to the magic of time zones, one can spread meetings over an entire day: mornings in New York, midday in Dallas or Denver and afternoons in LA, Seattle or San Diego. Thanks to Zoom, you can become a jet-setting networker but without any jet lag.

Even if your business does not translate well to digital options, there are still other advantages of online video conferencing. You can still showcase what you offer.

Do you run a construction firm? Attend the conference from a job site. Realtor? Use the digital conference to give a tour of your latest listing. HVAC? Use the digital conference to point out the unique features of your AC units. These are things you would never be able to do at traditional face-to-face networking events.

As a bonus, introverts no longer have to elbow their way into a closed circle or worry about another member of the group monopolizing time. Our rectangular-shaped boxes are all the same dimensions, and the chat feature allows us to direct comments to the entire group or to specific people.

Once we become comfortable with these tools, working the room has never been easier.

Mike Warren is studio manager for United Webworks in Bluffton. mike.warren@unitedwebworks.com