By far, one of the perks of an office environment is the ability to hang out with our work friends. There is a reason the term “working spouse” has become so common. Whether your work friends are like family or you just have a boyfriend who has had another toxic workplace tolerable, for most of us, work is where we connect with someone who uplifts us and makes the day much more enjoyable. While professional friendships boost morale and our overall well-being, they also play a vital role in improving team effectiveness. If you’re wondering, get a group of people who really don’t like each other together, give them a complicated task to complete, and see if it works out well.
There are so many reasons why work friendships are really important, but how do you nurture – let alone cultivate – a working friendship in a remote team? One thing this Covid-19 pandemic has taught virtually everyone is the importance of being creative and flexible, and those skills are becoming of critical importance here. Yes, we can cultivate these close professional friendships from a distance – maybe we just have to do it in a different way. Granted, your approach may differ depending on the level of relationship that existed prior to the switch to remote working, so select the techniques that best suit your particular situation. Whether you’re a leader trying to foster friendships within the team, a new recruit looking to connect with strangers, or a team member who really needs that friendly connection to perform at their peak performance. , here are some techniques that can help you.
How leaders can foster friendships within their remote team
Recognize the importance of friendships
The first step in fostering professional friendships is to recognize their importance and to de-stigmatize any negative concepts about connecting with others just to improve relationships. Friendship expert and author of The affair of friendship: making the most of the relationships where we spend the most time, Shasta Nelson suggests that leaders have an important role to play in emphasizing the importance of working friendships with their teams. “Name it (friendship), give it permission, encourage it, share your own experience of how useful it was to you,” Nelson explains. “Spend time highlighting all the resources in your organization that could help your team members feel more connected: employee resource groups, book clubs, events, etc.” “
Sponsor the “friendship matchmaking”
While it might sound a bit strange, the truth is that friendships can develop quite naturally and organically for some, but they can be quite difficult to cultivate for others – especially those who might be newer in life. team, naturally more introverts or those with less in common with others. Obviously, working remotely robs us of all those moments of friendship throughout the day – jokes before the meeting starts, jokes in the break room, or a quick catch-up on a shared elevator ride. Unfortunately, without these random daily connection opportunities, relationships can easily atrophy or simply fail without intentional intervention. To address this issue, Nelson advises, “Suggest setting up 3 paired conversations for those who wish to sign up to be connected with another team member once a week for the sole purpose of getting to know each other better. This can be even more impactful when executed at a broader organizational level, not only to generate more numbers, but also to provide opportunities for building more impactful relationships across organizational lines.
Assign co-managers for certain projects or tasks
Another approach that leaders can use to encourage professional friendships is to assign certain tasks or projects to two co-leaders instead of just one person. Obviously, this practice wouldn’t work well for some tasks, but for others it can be a great way for two team members to bond throughout the process of a task or one. project that spans a few weeks or months. This strategy can be especially effective for team members who don’t typically work together or who may not have much in common. The common task / goal gives them an obvious commonality and often relationship building happens quite organically due to their need to connect on a regular basis.
How team members can foster or maintain working friendships with each other
Schedule regular virtual coffee breaks
Many of us normally take a break with a friend during the day from work to have coffee and relax, catch up, or allow our mind to unwind and let go of the pressures of the day. This brief respite can not only rejuvenate our ideas and mental state, but also provide opportunities for making meaningful friendships that nourish our spirits. Author of Soften the edge and podcast host Empathy for breakfast, Mimi Nicklin recommends shared virtual coffee breaks for those interested. “What can start to be lightly staged can often end with a hoarse laughter and the deeper sense of connection that we once took for granted,” says Nicklin.
Use icebreakers to find common ground
It’s crazy how one thing in common can spark a friendship. Whether it’s a common hobby, a shared favorite sports team, or similar parenting struggles, these little connection points can provide entry points for longer-term relationships. So, finding these commonalities can often provide a “quick pass” on the way to acquaintance with a friend. The question then becomes… how do you find your common points in a professional environment? If you’re new to the team, consider asking others to share their 5-minute life stories to help you get to know them better. If you’re leading meetings, start by asking attendees to share a little-known fact – something that no one else on the call knows about them – during presentations. These little personal stories can create a natural path to new friendships.
Regularly check on team members
To say that the Covid-19 pandemic has created unprecedented levels of stress for friends and colleagues is an understatement. While the reality is that often there is little you can do to help a coworker who is worried about a sick relative or who speculates on the long-term impact of the pandemic on their career trajectory, just reach out from time to time to check with them can be so meaningful. Beyond demonstrating a sense of empathy, there may also be ways to intervene to lighten their load. Offering to help a coworker’s child with their homework for 20 minutes might be the best gift they can get that week, and it’s a great way to show your commitment to a friend.
“Remember that we are social beings,” says Nicklin. “To ignore friendships is to ignore human nature, and when it comes to business outcomes, ignoring our shared humanity never ends well. Just like long distance relationships, working remotely creates obstacles and challenges, but we can still maintain and even improve key relationships. As teams work remotely for long periods of time, it’s natural to focus on ways to keep productivity high, but just as important to focus on keeping morale and relationships strong. Focusing on friendships might seem like a luxury, but they are arguably the building blocks of a strong and trusting team environment.