Having good friends at work doesn’t just make your daily tasks more pleasant – there’s evidence that it makes us better workers too. But if you’ve just scored a great new remote job and happily waved goodbye to the commute, does that mean the end of having office buddies?
Not necessarily. We’ve tracked down some experts in work and friendship to bring together advice on how you can still build meaningful relationships with colleagues, even when your daily interactions are through a screen.
Set up informal meetings
So much of office chat revolves around chance meetings while making a cup of tea, and replicating that takes some work. “There are a lot of great benefits that working from home provides for people, but making friends is more difficult,” Julie Beck, who writes “The Friendship Files” for The Atlantic, tells Fortune magazine.
Making an effort to create repeated social interactions can still be meaningful, she suggests. She recalls one coworker who started in the pandemic and set up monthly Zoom social meetings, which created a structure where friendships could thrive.
Share more of yourself
We can’t just make friends with anyone – we have to know how to find the people with personalities that click and interests that match with ours. But the common ground is harder to spot if everyone has their best professional manner on all the time. So, make an effort to show your off-duty personality a little.
Psychology professor Art Markman suggests using your Zoom background to show off interests in sports teams, books, music or art to help conversations get started. “By displaying a bit more of your non-work self, you make yourself feel more approachable than if every aspect of what you do is strictly professional,” he says.
Get in sync with your colleagues
One study set out to analyse the problem of remote worker’ relationships, and found that a real obstacle to making friendships wasn’t just distance but time. It was hard to know when, where and how remote colleagues were working, with people keeping vastly different schedules.
But those virtual workers who were more available and responsive to each other often developed friendships. So, getting to know each other’s schedules and adapting to them is key. “In an online world is nothing is spontaneous anymore. Because of that, it takes a while to get [what] we call a temporal rhythm—to develop this sense of just how the heck you’re going to connect,” says Professor Blake Ashforth, one of the study authors.
Good relationships aren’t built in a day, or through one after-work drinks meeting over Zoom. In the office, you create friendships through shared moments over weeks and months – and the same is true of remote-working friendships.
“If that first virtual coffee goes well, consider planning another. If that goes well, consider making monthly coffee chats a regular calendar item,” says writer and digital strategist Meena Thiruvengadam. “The more you engage with a person, the stronger a professional relationship—and personal friendship—you can build.”
Take your friendships beyond work
Psychologist and friendship expert Marisa Franco says studies suggest the quality of friendships depends not just on how much time we spend together, but how varied our activities are.
“That means if you only ever interact at work, it’ll be hard to strengthen your bond. Instead, go to the museum or happy hour or have your co-worker over for dinner,” she suggests. If you can add real-life meetings, texting or one-to-one phone calls, then you may soon turn a work friend into a real friend.