The internet shrinks distance. Whether this is bringing us closer to relatives on the other side of the world, finally realising that the person far across your open plan office who you've been staring at for years is part of the solution to your problem, or customers being able to directly connect with someone inside the faceless corporation they've been banging their head against. We are discovering the power of proximity.
But with proximity comes risk and responsibility. The inside and the outside of our organisations are becoming harder to distinguish. The barriers between home and work are blurring. The edges of our companies are more permeable. As individuals we are having to get better at managing the joins.
I heard of someone about to go through a merger with another company who thought it would be cool to connect online with their opposite number, and soon to be colleague, without realising that the law prohibited them from doing so. We've all had that situation of having agreed to link with someone on LinkedIn and then second message they send is trying to sell us something. Or maybe we've been reading that influential industry blogger's posts for years and, thanks to their easy going style, feel like we know them - but how would they react if we reach out and try to connect with them?
This is why lurking matters. Finding the people you want to connect with, working out where they spend time and watching how they behave. You need to learn the ropes, get to understand the rules and the etiquette of people and situations. Think about the person you are about to connect with. What are their challenges and priorities? What sort of language do they use? What is your motivation for connecting with them and is it mutually beneficial?
Sometimes we forget that this is nothing new. We've always had to think about building networks and relationships whether in business meetings or at parties. We know how to establish common ground, build trust, and respect each other.
All it takes to do this online is a little thought and a little courage.