It’s no secret that close friendships are beneficial to our lives. Friends provide an outlet to vent, encouragement to take a new step, or a sounding board when we’re unsure about a decision. They help us see new perspectives and engage in meaningful social interactions. They help us reduce worry and cope with major life events.
This is precisely why work friendships can help mitigate the tedium or stress of a job. We spend a lot of time at work—about a third of our lives, according to some estimates—and it’s common for us to find some of our closest friendships in the office.
Prioritizing work friendships can pay off. One report from Wildgoose found that 57 percent of employees say having a good work friend makes their job more enjoyable. Work friends understand office dynamics like no one else in our lives, and sometimes they help us see things we don’t see when we’re in sticky situations. They provide a unique form of support and affirmation. They may share a lot of the same interests with us, especially if they work in the same department or have a similar professional background.
But because we spend so much time at work, not having any connections there can lead to feelings of isolation—from others, from the job, and from the company. This kind of isolation has been even more of a challenge since the pandemic began. Many people are still working remotely at least part of the time, which can make them feel detached and withdrawn.
Investing time and energy in work relationships can help you foster a greater sense of teamwork and belonging, which leads to more job satisfaction and a more positive workplace culture. But how do you get started making friends at work?
What remote environments mean for work friendships
The new normal of remote or hybrid work presents new challenges for employees looking for work friendships. When people can’t gather in person or see friends in the hall or at their desks, it’s harder to nurture meaningful connections that make work more enjoyable and tolerable. Employees are at home, alone or with their families or roommates, and they can easily miss out on healthy social engagement.
Data from Gallup shows that having a best friend at work has become more important to people since the pandemic. Employees with a best work friend are more likely to have fun at work, be more productive, support a safe work environment, and engage others, including customers and internal partners. They’re more likely to share ideas with each other and be innovative. The data also found that when employees have a best friend at work, they are less likely to be looking for another employer, and they are more satisfied with their place of employment.
However, for people working in hybrid environments, Gallup found a five-point decline since 2019 in how many said they have a best friend at work. The pandemic created many more challenges for employees to connect. Many employees can no longer physically separate their work lives from their home lives. They can’t get the same level of interaction and connection over online chats, video conferences, and emails as they can in the physical office space.
These remote-work roadblocks may seem impossible to overcome, but the tips that follow relate to making friends in both in-person offices and virtual-work environments.
7 tips for making friends at work
So, how do you make friends at work in today’s hybrid work environment? These seven suggestions will help you identify what you want in a work friend and pursue relationships that will be fulfilling and long-lasting.
1. Follow your gut
We connect with specific people for many different reasons. Maybe you have the same sense of humor, or you both are into doing tai chi after work. Sometimes you can’t explain why you have a fast emotional connection with someone. Follow those feelings and be willing to trust your gut.
You don’t have to be best friends with everyone. Your friendships will be more meaningful if you focus on developing one or two relationships that enrich your life the most.
2. Be vulnerable
Organizational psychologist Sarah Marrs says vulnerability is important for work friendships. “Trust is the foundation of any relationship,” She says. “You can slightly trust someone and be great coworkers—but not friends.” Marrs also defines a “work friend” as someone who she trusts is loyal to her before their employer. It’s important to know you can turn to the work friend when you’re having a problem without worry of judgment or backlash.
A work friend needs to be someone you can trust, but you also have to open yourself and be vulnerable to create a healthy work friendship. A strong relationship is a two-way street. When you’re trying to establish a friendship at work, “the willingness to be vulnerable and trust people may help you progress past the coworker stage,” Marrs says.
Read more: Your Guide to Setting Boundaries in the Workplace
3. Plan something social
Happy hours, lunches, events, and parties have always been important for work relationships. But the shift to remote work environments means that you may have to get even more creative—and be more persistent—about planning social activities with coworkers. When everyone is remote, consider hosting a lunch trivia on Zoom or a virtual happy hour once a month. Ask a potential work friend to have a coffee chat on a video call.
Think of ways you can connect and talk about something other than work. If you’re developing a friendship with someone who has the same hobby as you, search for virtual platforms where you can do those things together.
4. Be patient and listen
Great work friendships can’t be rushed. They grow and evolve over time as you get to know each other. This means you need to practice patience. Even if you want a work bestie right now, focus more on being authentic and letting the relationships develop naturally. Trying to force a friendship can push the other person away or come off as disingenuous.
Be yourself at work, even if you don’t divulge your whole life story to your coworkers. Don’t be afraid to share your opinions or speak up. Show a little bit about who you are with your Zoom background or pet photos. Ask follow-up questions when others are sharing, and try to connect what they’re saying to your own experiences. Be an active listener, and avoid being on your phone or doing other things on your computer during meetings. By being yourself and showing interest in others, you can keep being patient and wait for connections to follow.
Read more: The Best Icebreaker Questions for Work Events
5. Reach out to new employees
Many organizations have mentoring programs in place where new hires are paired with seasoned employees or executives pair up with lower-level employees. These can be very effective in establishing positive work relationships and even lasting friendships. They also create a supportive, encouraging work environment that fosters collaboration.
Even if your company doesn’t have such a program, you can still act as a support to new people. Reach out separately to a new hire on your team to ask how they’re getting along. Let them know you’re a resource should they have any questions or concerns. You can provide much-needed support and guidance when new people may feel overwhelmed, and you may be on the path to developing a great work friendship in the process.
6. Get more face time
Nothing can really replace interacting with someone face-to-face. But you can easily recreate actual in-person conversations on video platforms like Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Getting face time with other people is much better than only taking phone meetings or chatting online. Through video, you can see people’s facial expressions and body language, which provide greater clarity about emotions and intentions than words alone.
Try to increase the amount of time you’re interacting on video calls with coworkers. Even if a task or conversation can be handled in an email chain, schedule a quick meeting instead. These face-to-face interactions allow you to engage more meaningfully with others and stay social. Video meetings can also help everyone clarify what they’re saying so the team is on the same page.
7. Don’t replace a toxic work environment with a friendship
While having great work relationships is critical to your job happiness, remember that friendships can’t always solve what’s really wrong at your job. At the end of the day, it’s more important to have respectful, professional relationships in a good workplace than to have really close friends in a toxic work environment.
The latter situation means it’s easier to band together to trash talk managers or other employees. You may be less likely to realize that the environment is toxic—and that you’re contributing to that toxicity—when you have a best friend by your side to vent to. If a friendship is all you have to keep you going at work, it’s time to assess whether the company is still right for you. You can always keep your strong friendships going after you find a more fulfilling workplace.