When I started BNI in 1985, the biggest question from the media was: “Is this networking thing just a fad?” Well, 34 years and more than 8,700 groups later — it’s clearly not a fad. There have been changes over time though. The biggest change has been the introduction of the internet. Ironically, online networking has contributed to the success of face-to-face networks by greatly reducing the communication hierarchy and allowing people to communicate through mixed reality on online platforms.
Today around 50% of all small businesses are home-based and nearly half of the US workforce is expected to work remotely by 2020. This means that 50% or more of future entrepreneurs and employees will be working remotely within the next few years.
Today, I see an even more amazing trend on the horizon as it relates to remote work, technology, and business networking. That trend is the emergence of mixed reality within the realm of personal networking. Mixed reality is the merging of real and virtual worlds where physical and digital objects co-exist and interact in real time. Mixed reality takes place not only in the physical world or the virtual world but is a mix of reality and virtual reality.
As this technology develops, it will allow remote teams to work together and tackle objectives no matter where the individuals are physically located. People can enter a collaborative, immersive virtual environment in order to develop and activate relationships, increase business, enhance knowledge, expand one’s sphere of influence, or serve the community. And, in the not too distant future, I predict that they will be able to network remotely through a mixed reality environment. I believe the future of networking is a blending of the physical world with the digital world.
One of the current missing elements of a video discussion is the lack of intimacy with online communication. However, as this technology advances, people will be better able to read non-verbal language like crossed arms, leaning in, or signs of nervousness. People attach value to the feeling of physically sharing space with another person. The more technology enables that feeling to mirror reality, the more effective it will be. Science has shown, the brain is often unable to determine what is real and what is not as it relates to virtual reality.
True, a virtual mixed reality meeting is not the same as being there — but it will be getting closer to “real” reality when networking.