It’s an obvious statement: One thing that makes people feel good about their workplace is having friends at work. You’re more likely to be excited about engaging with your work if you genuinely like the people you work with.
But if you work remotely—and these days many of us do—it can be harder to become friendly with your colleagues. This is particularly true if you start a new job or transition into a new position where you are now interacting with a different group of people.
Part of the problem with making work friends remotely is that you don’t have as many random interactions with people that allow you to engage in a little small talk and let you find other people who have common interests. Instead, most of the engagements you have with people at work are scheduled.
Here are a few things you can do to connect with your colleagues:
Signal who you are
In order to make friends, you need to know that you share some common ground with the people around you. With fewer opportunities to chat informally with colleagues, you have to find other ways to send signals about who you are and what you like.
Try to use your real or virtual background in video meetings to provide some clues to your identity. If you’re using a virtual background, select pictures that say something about your interests or hobbies. If you’re having remote meetings with your home in the background, set up a few things that are visible markers of what is important to you, whether it is books, sports teams, musical instruments, or artwork.
Those bits of personal information give people a chance to find ways that they overlap with you. That creates opportunities to have more personal conversations with people and for them to comment on areas of common interest. In addition, by displaying a bit more of your nonwork self, you make yourself feel more approachable than if every aspect of what you do is strictly professional.
Make time for friends
A paradox of the work-from-home environment is that you don’t have much social downtime. You may take some time off during the day, but chances are you are taking a walk, reading a book, surfing social media, or otherwise doing something alone. In the office, your downtime is often more social. You might have a chat with a colleague by the coffee maker, eat lunch with a teammate, or take a walk together on a break.
There are two ways that the current environment makes it hard to take the time to spend with friends. First, if you’re going to talk with friends during the workday, you have to schedule it explicitly. You may feel funny about scheduling time to do something that isn’t focused on a particular work task, even though you wouldn’t have much guilt having that same conversation at work if you just happened to run into someone.
Second, if you share your home with a spouse or partner (and particularly if you have kids), it may be hard to find time to have conversations with colleagues outside of the work hours, because you may feel like you’re taking time away from family and responsibilities. It is important to try to negotiate a little time to spend with colleagues to get to know them as people. That will pay dividends later in your productivity and commitment to work.
Do nice things for others
There is often someone in every office who makes a point of celebrating people’s birthdays, sending cards to people who are ill, or bringing in donuts. Those little acts of kindness can bring people together. When you’re all working remotely, though, it is harder to have those little celebrations. That is just one more reason that can make working from home can feel a little lonelier.
Research suggests that unexpected nice things boost people’s mood. See if you can find a nice way to something nice and unobtrusive for your colleagues. It might be as simple as noticing something they did well at the office and sending them a quick message of appreciation or congratulations. Find the latest goofy work-related holiday (there are national employees’ days, national boss’s day, and even a national accounting day), and send someone a note or e-card to celebrate. It doesn’t cost anything, and it lets a colleague know you were thinking of them.
By finding a way to bring a little sunshine to your colleagues, you’re also helping yourself to feel more connected to the people you work with. As long as social distancing continues to affect workplaces, that will be an important way for you to feel good about your job. And many people may find themselves working from home long after the pandemic is over. So, developing ways to make friends while working remotely is likely to be a skill you will continue to need.