Indoor cat (n.) — One who does not like to socialize more than necessary, one who hates networking, and/or someone who has recently moved in with their significant other and has given up their wild days for making organic blueberry pancakes from scratch and arguing over light fixtures.
I would like to first say, I did not create this term.
Let me set the scene: It was an ordinary Wednesday, and I was sitting with a group of developers, PMs, and marketers. I asked a teammate of mine if he wanted to go to a marketing event with me. He, being from marketing, was quick to say yes. When I threw the invitation out to the others, I was met with a round of “no’s” and an explanation: “We’re indoor cats.”
A literal defining moment.
It made perfect sense. I am the bona fide cat lady for a team of indoor cats who happen to design and build websites and a wide variety of branding projects.
Networking might be the most necessary evil and, for my team of introverted indoor cats, it can sometimes feel like torture. Between work, kids, and the gym, how much forced socialization can one handle after fulfilling all those responsibilities? The current majority of my team is dev-based, and as our Technology Director Jim once said, “The practices you've used to become such a quick-witted technical problem-solver will very often fail you, and you need to introduce some entirely new, possibly very foreign skills into your repertoire in order to succeed.”
Devs have both the luck and misfortune of being able to isolate themselves to succeed. How many times have you heard a dev bemoan attending a meeting saying, “I just want to code” or “ I haven’t coded the whole day”? In fact, the higher they go, the less they code — and they are expected to move away from the shadows of their keyboard to lead meetings and become faces of companies. This isn’t limited to just devs; every introvert who succeeds and wants to keep moving up will need to be able to play the social game on a level that might not come as naturally to them.
Can people evolve into being more comfortable in these settings? Absolutely! Unfortunately, self-help books are best for an individual trying to change themselves.
My conundrum: How could I empower my indoor cats to network on a company-wide level? Here are some solutions I found that work pretty effectively.
1. Bring the Cat Tower
Host an event in the office. Forcing someone to go somewhere and play nice isn’t worth the possible resentment of your team. Now hosting something in your cats’ homes and promising food is another game entirely. Do a venue host, have shadowing opportunities, and allow them to shine comfortably in a place they know.
2. Hold My Paw
A person networking alone is an anxious mess waiting to happen. Go with them! Offer a multitude of meetups and professional development opportunities every week and let people know you’re going. Don’t make people do what you yourself won’t do. This isn’t to say you’re going to every event with them, but you should lead by example.
3. I Can’t Believe This Is Networking
Networking need not be limited to passing around business cards in your “business attire” at some random office. Go to a beer garden, host in a gallery space, rock climb with other project managers/devs/designers. Networking isn’t about the location but the people.
4. Sacrificial Social Lamb
(can I copywrite that phrase?)
On a good day, I have about four people who are my lambs (I being one of them). These people have a greater social battery and are willing to use it for the cause — so they are the ones you’ll usually see at more traditional networking events.
5. Meow Out Loud
Make the cats talk amongst themselves. Yup, have them lead a presentation to their team and then build on that presentation. Have them give that talk at the next event in the office and place an anchor teammate to make them feel that they a) are supported, b) have a social buffer, and c) have something to talk about confidently after.
These simple networking modifications can empower your own indoor cats/introverts. Networking, like any skill, comes easier to some people than others. Improving is not about breaking down but building up, so let us link paws and move forward — just don’t forget your business cards.