Office friendships are more than just having someone to take coffee breaks with or vent to about work and life problems — they've actually been reported as the leading contributor for job satisfaction.
“When our relationships with our co-workers edge out things like job description and compensation, that’s really huge,” said Shasta Nelson, friendship expert and author of "The Business of Friendship."
Work has always been the easiest place to make friends since you automatically see them most days, but with remote work becoming more common, things have certainly changed. So, how can you maintain that relationship with your office bestie when you’re both working from home? It’s definitely doable, and the benefits will outweigh the effort.
Why it’s important to have friends at work
It’s more fun to have a friend at work to make the daily grind a little more tolerable, but there are other reasons that maintaining friendships at work is good for you and your job.
Having a friend at work has been shown to decrease the feeling of loneliness in general, Nelson said, and it can also make you happier and better at your job.
“We’re more likely to stay at the job and are shown to be way more productive,” she explained. “We feel safer brainstorming, have more ownership in problem solving and are less likely to call in sick (when we have an office friend).”
How remote working has impacted office friendships
Since the pandemic and social distancing has forced most offices to move to remote work, relationships between co-workers have changed, but the results aren't all bad.
“One thing I’ve seen across the board is that we’ve felt safer sharing, seeing each other’s homes, kids and pets; we’re checking in with each other more and it’s safer to talk about mental health,” Nelson said. “We’ve watched vulnerability go up, and I’m hoping that will carry on even when we’re back at the office.”
But there have been some downsides as well. “We’re still interacting, but at the end of the day, people are reporting complete exhaustion, and they’re not getting off video calls feeling better for having been on them,” she said. “Positivity has plummeted in office relationships ... it’s harder to give free lunches, smile when we walk by each other or say, ‘Great job,’ and we’re missing all of those acts of positivity that somewhat came up intuitively.”
What you can do to keep your work friendships strong
Nelson said the area of focus she’d recommend for work friendships is positivity — aka, making your friend feel better about their job and life.
“Research shows that quantity matters more than quality (for emotions),” she said. “So they can have something really bad going on in their life, but five little things from us offsets that. You want five positive emotions for every negative emotion.
“The least we can do is reach out and just state, 'I miss you,'” Nelson suggested. Words of affirmation and appreciation also help, like giving them a shoutout in a team meeting or private messaging them to let them know how helpful their presentation was to you.
She also suggested starting and ending every conversation with something that will leave the other person feeling good. For example, starting with “I’m so glad we’re talking,” and ending with “It was great talking with you.”
And get creative with your ways of interacting. Since the old way of grabbing an afternoon coffee together is harder to do right now, come up with another way to connect, like calling each other on the phone or taking a walk around your block just to get away from the screen, Nelson suggested.
If you live too far away, try sharing an after-work cocktail with each other over Zoom to replace the old-school, in-person happy hour. “Anything to make it feel a little more fun and less like an appointment,” Nelson said.
How to make work friends when your job is remote
Maintaining work friendships virtually is one thing, but it’s another to make new friends at work when you’re only communicating with co-workers via phone and the computer.
But if you’ve just started a new job, Nelson says this is actually the best time to make new friends at work, even if you’re remote. “Reach out to as many people as you can and say, ‘I’m brand new and want to connect,’” she suggested. “Make that your priority.”
You can also talk to your manager and ask them who they feel like you should be meeting. “Maybe that manager can even set up some awesome connections you might not have had if you were in the office,” Nelson said.
“We have to be more intentional now,” she said about making work friends. Just as parents have to create more social interactions for their kids during virtual learning, adults need to make socialization at work a priority, too.
Watch out for these work friendship pitfalls
Navigating office friendships remotely has come with some challenges. While you used to be able to communicate privately in person, a lot of chats are now happening over company-run messaging symptoms like Slack. Nelson reminds everyone to be mindful about what you’re sharing in that format.
“You can use Slack for chatting and interacting to ask if the other person is available to chat, but you obviously don’t want to say anything on Slack that you wouldn’t want anyone else to see,” she said.
Another pitfall she warns of is the excuses we make for avoiding interactions right now. “For us to stay connected, we’re at risk for feeling like it’s one more appointment to have to schedule with each other,” she said. “When we think about interacting, we almost feel too busy.”
There’s also a fear of “I don’t want to inconvenience that person,” or “I’m sure they’re really busy.” “We talk ourselves out of reaching out,” she said.
With remote work friends, though, it’s important to give each other permission to reach out whenever you need to. Make the effort to maintain those relationships. It’ll boost your happiness and productivity, and you’ll have a good friend to call anytime. It’s a win-win-win.