Our new era of work ushered in new values for many workers: work-life balance, flexibility and autonomy.
Building relationships at work fell down on people’s priority lists; according to Capterra’s 2022 Company Culture Survey people said that relationships with co-workers are now the least important factor of their job satisfaction — and more than half of remote employees weren’t really interested in having work friends at all.
As a remote-first employee — and someone who started their career remotely — this trend rings true. It’s not that I don’t want friends at work, but rather that remote work has made other aspects of work a higher priority. After all, making friends at work when you’re working remotely isn’t easy. Sometimes it can feel like extra work to build and maintain relationships when the people you’re talking to aren’t near you.
Yet the data shows that work friendships are worth the work. Here’s why work friendships are so beneficial — and how you can build them, no matter where you work.
Benefits of Work Friendships
You’ll be more engaged at work.
According to 2018 research from Gallup, people who have at least one best friend at work are seven times as likely to be engaged in their jobs. When you have a friend a work, Gallup found you’re more likely to have a positive experience during the workday and feel more trusting of and connected to your coworkers.
Friends can hold you accountable.
Just like you might call on a friend to hold you accountable to make that doctor’s appointment or train for that half marathon, friends at work can help you stay on track professionally.
“It’s all about finding someone who will help keep you consistent,” says Lauren McGoodwin, founder and CEO of Career Contessa.
While work friends can definitely distract you from day-to-day tasks, they can help you with long-term professional development — like giving you the confidence to ask for a raise or coming with you to a networking event.
You’ll be more productive at work.
Having friends at work gives you a more positive inner work life, which is likely to make you more creative and productive at work, according to Professor Teresa Amabile of Harvard Business School, co-author of The Progress Principle. Friends can make work a better experience — which in turn can make you better at work.
You’ll want to stay at your company.
Yes, the Great Resignation is still going strong — and there are so many valid reasons to leave a job. But having work friends can make it more compelling to stay, even when things get tough.
“If a job were a product, you might say that work friends make it ‘sticky’—that is, compelling and harder to leave. Fewer worker friends means fewer reasons to stay,” writes Insider’s Rebecca Knight.
How You Can Build Work Friendships (Without it Feeling Like Extra Work)
Having friends at work doesn’t mean you need to bare your whole personal life to a colleague, nor does it mean you need to start blurring the lines between work and life. Instead, here are a few ways to build healthy relationships with coworkers that don’t feel like extra work.
Don’t put pressure on yourself to ask someone for 1:1 time outside of the office or workday. Relationships have to start somewhere — a quick 15-minute coffee chat can be enough to get the ball rolling.
Everyone loves a coworker who’s cheering them on or appreciating their hard work. A great way to start a conversation — and a friendship — is to be openly positive and encouraging of someone else’s work. Even a quick Slack message or email can make a difference.
Once you’ve connected with a coworker and introduced yourself, follow up! Try to be specific when you’re reaching out to them. Instead of asking how they’re doing in general, ask about something they’re working on or, better yet, something you talked about last time.
Set boundaries that matter to you
What kind of friend are you looking for? A confidant? A motivator? A supporter? Once you’ve started building a relationship, set boundaries early on depending on what kind of work relationship you’re looking for. For example, if you want to keep your personal life separate, focus your conversation topics elsewhere early on. If you want someone who supports you in work accomplishments, set an example by cheering on your coworker in their work.
Take the pressure off
Work relationships aren’t always the easiest to build, especially if you’re managing them in a virtual or mostly-virtual world. Know that building relationships takes time. You don’t need to put pressure on yourself to make a best friend right away, or even in the next month. While work relationships require a little work, they can still develop in an organic way.
This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.