Do you have work BFFs? Why is it even important? Well! The research suggests that having friends at work keeps employees not only happy and engaged but also more productive and creative. The discussions and the camaraderie helps them inspire each other. When asked how having a ‘work best friend’ impacts their job, nearly three in five (57%) people surveyed say it makes it more enjoyable, according to Happiness in the Workplace Survey done by Wildgoose. The research done by Gallup further strengthens the case as it highlights:
“Those who [have a best friend at work] are seven times as likely to be engaged in their jobs, are better at engaging customers, produce higher quality work, and have higher well-being.”
The importance of having friends at work and constant interactions with them was brought to light when the pandemic arrived. The lockdown and the sudden push to remote work for the majority of the workforce, led to more isolation. The employees were only burdened with work and were anxious about job loss, pay cuts, and health and well-being of their family. Eventually, the catch-up on video calls, online games, and other tech tools helps bring employees closer to each other and employers did realise the importance of these informal interactions.
But what happens when a new person joins in and has never actually met any of the colleagues in person before? How do you nurture friendships in a digital world of work?
Here are some suggestions:
Encourage your employees to be more proactive
As Hilla Dotan, an organizational-behavior researcher at Tel Aviv University shared with the Atlantic, “What we’re doing through virtual work is we’re neutralizing the social aspect of [work].” But the human need to connect still persists. What holds us back is the lack of opportunities to interact with each other and lack of convenience.
Earlier, it was easy to catch-up with someone in the elevator, near a watercooler, or just go to someone’s desk and start a conversation. However, in the remote work setup, employees are required to be more proactive. They have to take up the initiative to make connections and talk to people to know more about them. Leaders should encourage people to connect with each other, especially with the new joinees who are also trying to understand the culture of the company. Leaders themselves must set aside time once a week to check in.
Bring people together for a common cause (which is not related to business)
In a common physical space of work it is easier to build connections and find shared interests. Sports, an ideology, hunger to share perspectives, sharing show recommendations, playlists, and more. For instance, some companies organize volunteer days in a week or a month, giving an opportunity to people to give back together and contribute to the betterment of the community. In another example, Krissee Chasseur’s team at Zappos, the online shoe retailer, started a book club. “We were putting together ideas to keep our team digitally engaged, and a weekly virtual book club seemed like an easy fit to blend our core values of ‘pursuing growth and learning’ and ‘building a positive team and family spirit,’” she had written in her email, last year.
Collaboration opportunities & Learning sessions
Projects that bring cross-functional teams together are the best kinds, as they break the walls and help people work together, out of their silos. For people who have recently joined the company remotely, if given the opportunity to work with people from different teams, get opportunities to interact with people outside of their teams as well. Brainstorming sessions and discussions further deepens the connection among team members. Besides collaborating on diverse projects, leaders can also invite people specialising in a particular area to conduct learning sessions for others. For example, one of the colleagues who has recently taken up a new course can share the knowledge with everyone else in the team, especially the ones who seek to know more about it. Beyond business and professional courses, there could also be other skills that employees can learn from each other. A great chef can share some recipes with the other budding ‘experimentators’ in the kitchen. The dancer can give some dance lessons to others who might want to learn and so on and so forth.
As custodians of people and culture, HR leaders must drive the entire agenda of ensuring the emotional connect at work and help employees nurture their friendships in the remote working scenario. Through surveys, deep conversations, and analytics, they can identify opportunities to bring people together.