Inter-office dating may be frowned upon in some companies, but one Toronto-based accounting company, FreshBooks, says it’s achieved success by setting up employees on blind dates. The dates aren’t of the romantic sort, but rather, are coffee or lunch dates with randomly selected people from different teams who rarely have a chance to interact. The blind dates are intended to help FreshBooks create a more collaborative workplace and allow employees to get to know each other as people, not just roles.
"As FreshBooks has grown over the years, I noticed more and more people didn’t know each other’s names anymore," says Grace Antonio, manager of support operations and organizer of the Blind Dates initiative. Antonio had joined the 200-person company when it was staffed by less than 20 people. The company has already undergone two rounds of blind dates, setting up 92 employees, nearly half the company.
The results of the blind dates initiative have been widespread:
"Getting to know people from all different backgrounds, roles, and departments is a great way to develop empathy and have a better bird's eye view of the business," says Antonio. Understanding the goals of different departments was important to Terry Thrasher, a member of FreshBooks’ Mobile Development Team. "In my role, it’s important to have good awareness about the people at the company and what they’re doing. The more I learn, the easier it is to understand what various teams are achieving, and how we can share knowledge across groups," says Thrasher.
Meeting people from different departments can present an opportunity for collaboration that would never have happened in the course of the normal business day. Although it hasn’t happened yet, Antonio says the opportunity is there for FreshBookers to stumble upon great ideas from other fields of work that could be applied to their own area, or come up with new project ideas to collaborate on.
In a follow-up survey, 65% of FreshBooks blind daters said they felt a meaningful connection to their date. There’s no doubt having a friend at work can make the workplace more enjoyable, but a 2014 survey by employee recognition firm Globoforce showed having friends at work has other long-term benefits to companies, including improving employee engagement. In the study, 69% of employees with a pal at the office reported being highly engaged, versus 28% who didn’t have a friend at work.