How to Maintain Work Friendships when Remote Working

Many studies have shown that having friends at work is vital and makes you seven times more likely to be engaged in your job. People with workplace friendships are nearly 3 times more likely to say that they love their companies and 2 times less likely to be poached by another company. Good interaction has positive effects on our well-being.

“Connecting with people boosts our mood and our morale, and friendships provide us with the emotional and psychological strength to deal with whatever comes our way”

– Annie McKee

Friends at work make you more motivated and up to seven times more productive. There is no doubt that having someone in the workplace to cheer you up when you’re down or chat to when you’re bored can massively improve how much you enjoy your time at work. The work produced is better in fact; employees with a friend have a 35% higher dedication to quality than their counterparts.

People with friends at work have a much higher level of workplace satisfaction, are more loyal to the company and less likely to leave. They also act as brand ambassadors speaking well about the company and are less likely to leave, decreasing office turnover. People with good office friendships are just happier.

Of course, our relationships within the workplace should also remain positive and professional and not become inappropriate. Harassment, favouritism, and abuse of authority, can also stem from close social rapport between co-workers. It’s important to avoid all the pitfalls of office relationships and respect people’s boundaries. A good way to do this is to avoid office gossip. We should also ensure we include non-friends in work projects, and treat everybody, those we like and those we may not like so much, fairly and equally.

However, as long as a healthy balance is struck, leading scientists and psychologists agree that good social relationships are immensely beneficial. Organisations are simply a network of people. The better balanced the relationships between those people become, the better the organisation functions.

Is Working from Home the New Normal?

The Coronavirus Pandemic has meant that many people have been furloughed or working from home. As lockdown has been lifted, personal and professional remain distinctly different from before Covid-19. Since remote working does not seem to have harmed productivity, many believe that it is a ‘new normal’, with up to 75% of employees wanting to continue working from home.

Certainly staff are reporting improved productivity and job satisfaction and companies that continue working from home will be able to reduce fixed and overhead costs. No more stress  traffic and road rage on the office commute. Workers also have the freedom to  run errands usually unmanageable in  a 9-5 routine.

Some critics argue that the convenience of flexible working can’t compensate for what’s lost in creativity and connectedness. Are the figures on increased productivity misleading?

There’s strong evidence that working in teams yield better results. Social psychologist Floyd Allport found that people worked better in teams, even if they weren’t collaborating, establishing an effect known as ‘social facilitation’. So, employees and businesses alike must ask themselves whether working from home is actually as beneficial as it’s been made out to be.

Remote working is likely to become a big part of our future.  Some will enjoy the increased freedom and flexibility but others will long for the days before COVID reshaped the workplace and there are warnings of ‘ghost towns’ if staff do not return to the office. 

Given the importance of workplace relationships there are ways to improve connectivity among the workforce and measures can be implemented to create a connected workforce bridging physical gaps. Activities focusing on relationship building can be adapted to online work environments, with the addition of virtual coffee breaks, regular check-ins, virtual mentoring & lunch catch-ups. Companies should implement measures that build trust and show support. To achieve this, leaders within organisations must take action to provide support during times of excessive stress or concern.

The government is currently urging workers to return to work, if they can. If companies follow Government Guidelines correctly then returning to the workplace will be very different experience, with colleagues wearing masks, separated by partitions and one way systems. There will be fewer people in the office, as businesses will have to limit numbers in the office, to allow for social distancing.

Polls also show that many want to continue working from home. Some argue that what will emerge is a hybrid model, with much more flexibility. Whatever is eventually the outcome, it is certain that work friendships and the dynamics of office interaction will be different.

The Pandemic Is Changing Work Friendships

Co-workers had little choice but to bond when they spent 40 hours a week together. But if widespread remote work sticks around, those relationships will never be the same.  If having a close work friend does increase productivity, and even company loyalty, will these changes have long term effects?

“What we’re doing through virtual work is we’re neutralizing the social aspect of [work],”

–  Hilla Dotan

We may need to be proactive to maintain relationships that once were easy, since we are no longer spending thirty to forty hours in the company of colleagues.  Remote-work friendships may need extra effort, which will not be easy, especially as the longer term effects of the pandemic start to be seen. It is likely, though, that people will likely still go the extra mile for co-workers they really connect with. It is time to remember just how important the support of work place friends can be.

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