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3 Ways to Stay Connected to Your Friends at Work Even If You're at Home

Executive Summary

We all know company culture makes a huge impact on an employee's satisfaction with their job. During this period of remote working, however, studies have shown that as much as one-third of employees are feeling disconnected from their friends at work.

  • Shasta Nelson, author of The Business of Friendship and leading expert on establishing effective and fun workplace relationships, has been speaking on the value of having friends at work for years. But her insights take on particular relevance in an age where we can't physically interact with each other in ways we're used to interacting.
  • According to Nelson's research, the best relationships are formed around three factors: positivity, vulnerability, and consistency.
  • To protect your work relationships in the virtual era and maintain a sense of consistency in the obvious and debilitating inconsistency of this new business environment, Nelson says responsibility lies on both managers and individual employees.

Do you find that your friendships at work are drifting apart now that you’re working remote?

It’s harder to maintain connection when we don’t have the proximity and spontaneity that a shared workplace can help foster! We need to be intentional to stay connected with our work friends when we aren’t in the same building.

In comparing the various factors that social scientists are studying when they look at how we create bonds, whom we confide in, whom we call a best friend, what makes a healthy marriage, what builds trust, or what makes up the perfect team, three factors always emerge. The three factors that make up every relationship are positivity, consistency, and vulnerability.

When we realize the important role Consistency has in our relationships, we also then realize why loneliness shows up as one of the biggest downsides to working alone. Considering all of us who work off-site, work for ourselves, are part of global teams, participate in the growing “gig economy,” or telecommute part of the time, that’s almost 50 percent of us who need to become more skilled in relationship-building strategies when face-to-face interaction with the same people isn’t the norm.

The answer to our workplace loneliness is to look to add other ways, besides proximity, to build Consistency with our colleagues.

Virtual Relationship-Building Strategies to Maintain Closeness with Friends at Work

1. Schedule the Consistency. Without fail, the teams who are doing it well are doing so because they have scheduled the frequent and regular interaction that leaves them feeling closer to each other. They aren’t leaving it to chance or connecting only when there’s an urgent need or focused agenda.

  • Book-ending the week: One team has a group video chat every Monday where they each talk about their upcoming objectives that week and then, again, every Friday where they all debrief.
  • Collaborative work time: Another team works virtually every morning together for two hours through video, online chatting, and collaboration software to maximize their interaction before spending the rest of their day doing their own tasks.
  • Update & support: Another team pops on video for thirty minutes every morning to each share one thing they want to tell everyone about, and one thing for which they would like more support.
  • One-on-Ones with superiors: Managers, especially, have found it critical to schedule more regular one-on-ones with their remote workers to ensure they have clear and measurable outcomes, are receiving helpful feedback and validation, and ensure they feel they have easy access to their company and its mission.

But we don’t need to fall victim to bad leadership if that Consistency isn’t as much as we’d like. We can reach out to our manager to suggest more clear ideas for increased connection by asking, “Would you be willing to schedule a more regular one-on-one with me to make sure I stay connected to your vision and can support you the best way possible?” Or, “Would you be willing to experiment with scheduling a weekly video call with our whole team for the purpose of simply brainstorming and collaborating on various projects, in addition to the staff meeting we have where we’re more updating each other?” Or, “Would you mind if I started a channel in our collaboration software that is simply designed for us to each ‘share one thing every day that others might need to know’ to help make sure that those in the office are also updating those of us who are working remotely?”

And we can most certainly schedule our own Consistency by reaching out to various team members, being reliable with responding promptly, letting our team know when we’re working and/or will be available, and by participating as fully as possible in any and all gatherings and team meetings.

2. Prioritize video and in-person communication as much as possible. While it takes more energy to look presentable, we also feel closer when we can see one another’s faces. Neuroscience has shown us that empathy is developed when our mirror neurons are able to mimic the micro expressions of other people, so we’re more likely to feel invested in, and empathetic toward, those whose feelings we can intuitively see. As a team, be clear which modes of communication are preferred in which scenarios, and give preference to in-person, or video, as we’re able.

For some, this means prioritizing coming into the office occasionally (one study showed that telecommuting up to two and a half days a week had no negative effects on the relationships), even when we’re not required, to simply communicate that they matter and that we value feeling connected. This could mean, when traveling near one of our colleagues—

either for business or personal reasons—that we reach out and see if we can schedule a lunch while we’re in their vicinity. This could also be as easy as asking, “Hey, do you mind if we switch this over to video? I’d love to see you!” And, above all, it means when we are together in any way with our colleagues, we will do all we can to maximize that time by staying off our phones, participating fully in team-building activities, and showing interest in everyone.

3. And remember that Consistency is simply the foundation for the other two requirements of friendship: Vulnerability and Positivity. A team that simply stays in touch and communicates well may be efficient, but it doesn’t prevent loneliness or increase our commitment and loyalty to that team or job. So beyond simply having consistent interaction, we also need to aim to have some of the interaction focused purely on relationship building.

Good managers will make sure that there are video calls for the purpose of celebrating, getting to know a new employee, and asking everyone what more is needed from one another to feel better connected. They will make use of the technology that ensures that every employee is having a thirty-minute phone call each week with someone different on the team just for the purpose of getting to know each other, that new employees feel there is an accelerated pathway for getting to know their team, and that there’s time for each employee to feel seen by the team outside of projects. They will create online conversations that help the team get to know one another, inspire one another, and laugh together. They will schedule virtual happy hours or team lunches designed to help their team hang out with one another. And when they bring everyone together, they will maximize making memories, laughing, and connecting.

But we can do that too. Now that we understand that without us sharing parts of ourselves with each other (Vulnerability) or taking the time to enjoy one another (Positivity) that it’s us who suffer the most, we’ll be proactive to not just view our jobs as a means to an end but as a gateway to meaningful connection. We’ll put it on ourselves to contribute to the glue that will help our team feel close. We’ll text appreciation to our colleagues, we’ll initiate lighthearted moments in virtual hangouts, we’ll invite a colleague to virtual lunch, and we’ll be sure to help others feel closer to us by offering up glimpses of who we are and what we love. We’ll brainstorm a “safe word” for everyone on our team so that all we have to do is message that word when we’re feeling isolated or lonely and we’ll make sure someone jumps on a quick fifteen-minute call to just say hi!

Valuing Team Connection at the Individual Level

The most important thing we can do, wherever we work, is see how important it is for our sakes to foster the connection that will keep us engaged. We can’t enjoy one another or feel known if we don’t have a regular way of connecting—so we’ll set up what we need. Additionally, we’ll take responsibility, on our end, beyond the relationships with our team and manager, to decide how much we need to work at a coworking space or café, attend association meetings regularly, and schedule more lunches or events with clients and friends to offset the interaction we’re missing from working alongside a team. We can absolutely have the flexibility we desire and the relationships we need if we’re willing to value connecting the way we value productivity.

Shasta Nelson

Shasta Nelson is a leading expert and keynote speaker on friendship. A frequent contributor to the media appearing on TV shows such as Katie Couric and The Today Show, interviewed for countless magazines including Good Housekeeping, Health, and Forbes, and relied upon by editors in newspapers including The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, and The Washington Post.

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