Two friends hugging

How to Find a Best Friend in a Remote or Hybrid Workplace

July 29, 2022 Employee Experience
Kaya Ismail
By Kaya Ismail

Considering the average worker in the US will spend one-third of their life at work, it's easy to understand why friendships at work are essential. They help create positive experiences and, as research has shown, increase productivity and engagement.

"The reality is having friends at work makes it more likely that you make better decisions, are more engaged in your work, more committed and productive," said Morag Barrett, CEO at Broomfield, Colo.-based SkyeTeam. "It's hard to perform at our best unless we feel connected to others."

But the workplace isn't necessarily where people expect to make friends. An Olivet Nazarene University study shows only 15% of employees think of their colleagues as real friends. Instead, 41% views their peers as only coworkers, and 22% feel they are more like strangers. 

Those numbers should not deter leaders from encouraging more friend-building among employees. Friendships tend to elevate moods, and happier employees are more engaged and productive. But what does that look like in today's remote, distributed and hybrid workplace?

Camaraderie in the Remote and Hybrid Workplace

There's been a lot of talk in recent years over the pros and cons of remote or hybrid work models. One of the big questions to emerge has been whether remote workers and those who only come to the office on occasion require the same social interactions as in-office employees. If we look at the numerous studies reporting feelings of isolation among remote workers, it may be safe to assume that remote workers need just as much social contact as their in-office colleagues.

But considering the physical distance between employees and the fact that a video call is a far cry from a face-to-face moment, it may be challenging for employees to form friendships. So, how can leaders help foster those relationships? Here are five options:

Related Article: The Problem With Employee Experience Today

1. Encourage Informal Chats

During the pandemic, when limited social contact was permitted, employees tended to keep conversations short. Instead, emails were the primary communication method and often contained little conversational content. This trend was only natural. Short and sweet is usually the primary way to communicate in business.

But these types of communications don't allow coworkers to get to know one another and strike up much social intent. Additionally, short and sweet can sometimes seem impersonal, and tones can easily be misinterpreted.

To help build a friendlier culture, employers should make room for small talk in day-to-day conversations. This doesn't have to take away from the task at hand. These informal chats can be as simple as asking about the weather in one's location or if anyone did anything fun over the weekend. By having these quick and light talks, employees can learn about their colleagues and discover affinities.

2. Hold Online/Virtual Social Events

Organizing online social events became a popular way of coping with isolation at the peak of the pandemic. Leaders were seeking ways to keep the team spirit alive and the culture strong, and a slew of virtual activities surfaced.

There's no reason for any of this to stop completely in a now-fully remote or hybrid workplace. Employees should still be given opportunities to enjoy each other's company, and it doesn't have to be complicated. Some apps allow virtual teams to compete in team events, for instance, which can be a great way for workers to have fun and enjoy a little competition.

Of course, this is not the only option. Companies can have watch parties, where teams can watch the same movie on a streaming channel, or virtual meals, where everyone orders some food and enjoys a meal together. There are many ways to make these moments memorable and support cordial relationships.

Related Article: The Road to Hybrid Team Cohesion Lies in ... Video Games?

3. Keep Conversations Going

With remote workers, it's easy for days, weeks and even months to pass by without having had contact with a coworker. A person may be working on a time-consuming project, or vacations and holidays can make it more difficult to align collaborative work.

Sending team members and coworkers quick messages to say hello and to check in are great ways to ensure they're okay. It also allows leaders and managers to ensure the workload is adequately distributed and that no one is buried under unrealistic deadlines and demands.

In the end, it also shows the company cares about each individual employee, both personally and professionally. And those simple gestures help strengthen the culture and feelings of appreciation.

4. Teach Employees to Show Vulnerabilities

One way to make friends is to show our true self, including our vulnerabilities. Most people need to relate to others to build connections, and knowing that coworkers share similar challenges, interests, hobbies and skillsets helps with this process.

Conversations that carry an emotional component help build and strengthen interpersonal bonds. Questions like these can help lay the groundwork for a conversation:

  • How has [event] made you feel?
  • Are you feeling better now?
  • What has been the highlight of your work this week?

Related Article: How Corporate Culture Feeds Into the Bottom Line

5. Create Team Rituals

Team rituals can be a vital tool for managers seeking to create interaction and community spirit. They can also help build friendships between team members. After a while, rituals become a fantastic bonding opportunity that every remote team member will remember positively. 

There are numerous rituals to pick from, and the ones a manager chooses typically depend on the company goals or culture.

"Think virtual lunches and coffee breaks, virtual co-working spaces and fun virtual activities — puzzles, quizzes, games, social drinks; the list is endless," said Lauressa-Kay Higgs, head of HR at the Luxembourg-based TMRW Foundation. "Our team continues to work together with our party-planning committee and community manager to make these moments a huge success."

To help make them extra special, managers can even make these rituals unique to their team. Doing so helps form a sense of belonging and loyalty, which does wonder for employee retention strategies.

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