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Monday, July 26, 2021

World Friendship Day: How Workplace Friendships can Thrive in the Remote Working World

Over the last 18 months, during which many friendships have been forced into the virtual realm, World Friendship Day on 30th July brings an opportunity to reflect on the value of friendship and if it’s the true key to happiness.

Friendship can be underestimated as a ‘nice to have’ as part of day-to-day working relationships. However, humans are social creatures, craving interaction with others. According to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, love and belonging is the third most important human need - and with most UK adults working 35 hours per week - it’s important to factor these psychological needs into the working day to get the best out of people, both personally and professionally.

Working remotely can sometimes make people feel isolated and disconnected from their colleagues and their company culture. In our current circumstances, loneliness is becoming a common crisis for society as a whole, and sadly, people who are already isolated and lonely may become even more vulnerable. 

How would you define friendship? Maybe a bond over shared experiences, a mutual trust, the ability to lift each other's spirits, somebody who supports you through hard times and celebrates your triumphs. Each friendship is indeed unique, but something common amongst most friendships over the last year has been the remote nature of connection and socialising.

Over more recent months, with ample LinkedIn and company polls assessing opinions on working remotely versus in the office, we are facing a shift in the norm, whereby working from home is no longer the sought-after luxury it once was. The novelty for many has worn off and left behind a feeling of loneliness and disconnection.

Gen Z

Many young people were reliant on the office dynamic to form friendships, build careers, and navigate the independence of adulthood. Taking coffee breaks, eating lunch together, and co-working were vital activities in forming bonds in the workplace which are not only beneficial in terms of personal friendships but benefit the business’s bottom line through improved trust, collaboration and communication. Working at home for many young people means in a family home, with housemates or even alone - which may not make the most mentally healthy environments for confidence, creativity and communication. With no change of scenery or company, young people are missing out on vital opportunities to develop socially and express themselves. 

Online vs. Offline

In a research journal published over a decade before the start of the pandemic, it was found that full-time remote working increased loneliness by 67%. According to another report conducted within the last year, the two most common issues with working from home are collaboration and communication, and loneliness. Employees are missing out on the day-to-day social aspects of office life - bumping into colleagues by the watercooler or organising a lunch date with work besties, or even exploring tangents in the board room which lead to creative concepts. All of these relationship dynamics have been forced online and the gap between the formality of an email or video call versus the informality of a coffee and a chat in the breakroom is hard to bring together online. 

Workplace BFF

In a 2018 survey, 82% of respondents said they had at least one work friend, with 30% saying they had a best friend at work. Among those who work remotely, people claiming to have a work best friend halved to 15%. So what does this mean in terms of wellbeing? Having close work friendships is shown to increase productivity, company loyalty, and decrease staff turnover. So it’s proven, having friends at work is beneficial for both employees’ wellbeing and the employer’s bottom line.

How to Nurture Workplace Friendships

As a people manager, understanding that keeping an engaged and empowered workforce is key to business success on many levels, therefore it makes good business sense to nurture the factors that develop these key factors - such as workplace wellbeing and interpersonal relationships. Understanding employees’ personal situations (living arrangements, health issues, relationships etc) helps to gauge changes in behaviour or attitude which could be an early signpost of loneliness, anxiety or more complex mental health issues.

How can people managers facilitate the development of friendships without the workplace environment to rely on?

  • Carve out Time: Create opportunities to get employees together - whether online or in person, for team activities inside working hours or extracurricular social events, A respite from business-orientated tasks helps form genuine bonds between employees.
  • Fika: Set up a “Fika” meet - this is a Swedish tradition of taking a break from work for a coffee, but is more so an excuse to connect on a personal level. Some companies have experimented with digital Fikas and found it a useful tool for building friendships.
  • Matchmaking: Understand different personalities within teams and groups to assess their strengths and match complementary characters.
  • Remote employees: Take the time to speak with remote employees about their thoughts and opinions to connect with them on a personal level and open up the channels of communication.

What actions can employees take to develop their own friendships at work?

  • Develop “cadence: This is when you have a holistic understanding of who your teammates are, how they prefer to work and communicate, and learning their strengths and weaknesses. This creates the grounds for building workplace friendships and helps when sharing something more personal. The exchange of these personal interactions is the basis of forming a successful friendship.
  • Take your mask off: It is ok to take your professional mask off and reveal more about feelings, personal situations and challenges. Exposing vulnerabilities requires confidence and opens the door to receiving support and in some cases build bonds with others with similar experiences. 
  • Reject the fear of rejection: Many people don’t ask questions, for the fear of rejection - simply shutting down opportunities before they even have the chance to blossom. Ask if a co-worker wants to join you for a walk, see if someone fancies a bite to eat after work. If you’re working remotely there are some great alternatives; Start a Slack (or other instant messenger services) group for break time chats with meme’s, dog photos, anything unashamedly unrelated to work. Suggest an Amazon Watch Party for new films or cult series - where groups of up to 100 people can watch along and chat in real-time. You never know who may be an avid Avengers fan… 

We at HappyMaven understand that workplace relationships make a huge impact on the day-to-day working experience, transforming an employees whole perspective on a role and company, but we also understand that that’s not where friendships begin and end. Developing interpersonal relationships outside of the workplace is equally as important for social development and respite from the now blended home/working environment. 

At HappyMaven, we believe that good business starts with employee wellbeing, and the umbrella of friendship, trust and relationships touches on many aspects of maintaining positive wellbeing, outlining the importance of this human need above and beyond just ‘World Friendship Day’. Learn more about how HappyMaven can support your HR and leadership strategies, to support employee wellbeing and build a stronger, more resilient workforce for today and tomorrow.

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