How to Stay Connected to Your Work BFFs
If you’re missing your work friends as we continue to WFH, you’re not alone. Research shows friends at work help us be productive and stress-free.
Job and life advice for young professionals. See more from Ascend here.
Once upon a time, in a world that now seems far away, I stopped by my favorite colleague’s desk to catch up on which TV shows we had watched the night before. Later that morning, another coworker, let’s call him Mark, offered to pick me up an iced coffee (my favorite) on his trip to the local café. At lunch, I spent a few minutes talking to the person who sat next to me. Even my boss checked in to see if I wanted to walk around the block to “stretch my legs and catch up” before our last meeting.
That was back in the “good ol’ days” when I was actually paid to hang out with the same people five days a week, eight hours a day.
My connections with those people is what I — and probably most of us — miss about work. When it comes to socializing, work is to adults what school is to kids. Our (best) work friends actually help us stay motivated and happy. And, yes, research confirms this.
Last year, I asked more than 550 professionals (ages 20 to 70) nearly 30 questions as part of a study to learn more about how people build meaningful relationships at work. Here’s what I found:
Other studies also show that to have a productive and (relatively) stress-free day, we need at least six hours of interaction. People are social animals. Connecting with others minimizes our feelings of anxiety and maximizes our feelings of support.
So, even though you may be enjoying the new, flexible work from home policies, you also are likely not getting as much face time with your work friends. That can be hard. Sometimes, it may feel like you’re losing out on friendships — not because you don’t want to stay in touch, but because you simply haven’t figured out how to keep up with one another now that proximity is not on your side.
How do you reconnect with the colleagues you miss?
In my research, I found that there are three principles behind any strong relationship:
Each of these principles can help you define and strengthen your work friendships. Based on them, here are some ways to stay connected with your colleagues, despite being far apart.
The first step is to figure out how you can connect with colleagues virtually — even those who haven’t reached out to you yet. Sometimes, it’s too easy to think, “Well, it seems like they don’t miss me or care about our friendship.” But that is most likely not true. It’s more likely that your friend feels the same way as you, or, is going through something that’s hard for them to share. Try not to take their silence so personally and be willing to initiate a conversation.
If this person really matters to you, pick up your phone and text, “I miss seeing you! We clearly can’t rely on proximity and spontaneity now to stay in touch … any chance you’d be up for scheduling some time to catch up?”
Then, figure out new (virtual) rituals to stay connected. Or, recreate an existing ritual. If you always ate lunch with a certain colleague, maybe you can now do that virtually once a week.
Remember that you can’t connect if you don’t make time, and you can’t make time if you never initiate.
Pro tip: Before you end your chat, be intentional about connecting again. Say, “Thank you so much for taking out the time today. This was fun! I think we should speak again soon — perhaps in two weeks? What do you think?”
Once you get on the call, be candid. My definition of friendship is any relationship where both people feel seen in a safe and satisfying way. That signals vulnerability: All of us we want to be seen. We don’t want to simply update each other with the facts of our lives, but also feel known and understood.
In practice, this kind of connection is built by asking more questions and sharing your emotions when people ask you. For example, good questions to ask are: What are you proud of? What’s giving you hope these days? What’s draining your energy? What’s annoying you lately? What’s motivating you? What helps you feel focused?
Create a safe space to not just focus on the pleasant or positive emotions but also the difficult feelings. We all experience and feel things differently, so it’s important to be curious, not dismissive of what other people are going through. When we can share our struggles without judgment, we can show up for each other, no matter what’s going on in our lives.
Pro tip: Ask each other, “What’s the one thing bringing you joy this week and one thing causing stress?” or, “Where do you feel like you’re winning and where could you use some support?”
When we share something about ourselves, what we crave the most is acceptance. No one wants to reach out and be candid if they’re going to be judged for it. We connect with each other hoping to feel more loved, so the most important thing we can do is respond to vulnerability with validation. Make the other person feel good about sharing their time with you.
When you talk to a friend, focus simply on mirroring back what you hear them expressing. We often make the mistake of giving advice and trying to cheer the other person up, when all they want us to do is make them feel like we “get” them. If your friend is excited, say, “That does sound fun!” or if they’re going through something difficult, “That must be really disappointing.”
When you make sure that the conversation leaves you both feeling good about yourselves, the more you will both want to stay in touch.
It’s likely that your views, values, or beliefs have changed during this crisis — and that may be true for your friend as well. Remember that it’s okay for your work friendships to evolve. The most important thing, though, is that you both end the conversation still feeling accepted.
Pro Tip: Affirm them. Express your appreciation or encouragement. Say “I always love connecting with you. And I’m cheering you on as you finish that big project. They’re lucky to have you managing that.”
The more a conversation leaves you and your friends feeling good about the shared time (positivity), the more likely you are to make time with each other (consistency), and that will leave you feeling like you know each other better (vulnerability).
I know syncing up calendars and planning schedules doesn’t sound too exciting, and it’d be better if these relationships felt more organic. But trust that showing up for your work friends (though virtually) can help you feel closer to them both now and in the future when work brings us all back together.
Shasta Nelson is a friendship expert and a leading voice on loneliness and creating healthy relationships. Her research is found in her 3 books, including her newest one published by HarperCollins Leadership in August 2020: The Business of Friendship: Making the Most of the Relationships Where We Spend Most of Our Time on why we need to foster better relationships in our jobs. Her interviews have been featured on TEDx, The New York Times, The Harvard Business Review podcast, and The Steve Harvey Show. For more information, visit www.TheBusinessofFriendship.com.
How to Stay Connected to Your Work BFFs
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