Office friendships have always taken a life of their own. The workplace provides a unique environment where everything outside ceases to matter. You become friends with people that you wouldn’t look twice at if you passed them in the street. It doesn’t matter if they’re 45 and married with kids while you’re nursing a wicked tequila hangover and calculating how you’re going to afford rent this month. Once you step through those office doors, you all become equal; you become work besties.
What is a work bestie? It’s the person you spend far too long gossiping with at the coffee machine. It’s the person you complain to about every little task. It’s the one who knows every aspect of your private life and yet has never met one of the recurring characters.
Nowadays, your work bestie is the person whose eye you catch in a Teams call, and the one you quickly message on Slack when Jeremy has yet again muted himself.
We grew accustomed to remote working quicker than expected. We’ve learned to save our sweatpants for Fridays and to plan in an extended lunch break to re-watch Parks and Rec. We know that when we sneak off to get our nails done, we should add a vague appointment to our calendar.
But while we’ve discussed the impacts of remote working on our physical and mental health, we’re yet to question the irreversible damage it could do to our office friendships. Will remote working be the death of the beloved work bestie? Or will it adapt along with the rest of us?
Before the pandemic, like many others, I had never experienced remote work for myself. I had been working at Goboony for almost two years at this point. I can still remember when the announcement came that we would all have to work from home for two weeks (or so we thought). We were shocked, and I’ll be honest, I was a little excited. I couldn’t imagine having so much time at home and being able to work in my pyjamas. I wouldn’t have to bike to work in the rain or eat a limp sandwich for lunch.
Fast-forward a bit, and those two weeks turned into endless months. I began to see the downsides of working from home as well. It was harder to get clarification on projects, and there was less satisfaction in completing work. Difficult customers were more frustrating without my colleagues to vent to or roll my eyes at. I found myself easily working an hour longer or eating lunch behind my desk.
I missed my colleagues. I missed eating lunch together and hearing about their lives. I missed finishing Friday with a drink.
Then we were informed that the company had decided to go fully remote, even once restrictions were lifted. Everything was going well, and many could see the benefits of continued remote working. Parents were enjoying more time with their children. People were able to move further from expensive cities and use their commute time more wisely. It was easier to find time for exercise or hobbies. We could expand our hiring pool and get experts from each region. Instead, our company would bring everyone together twice a year for a week of bonding. And those weeks were incredibly fun.
Work friendships serve many purposes for us, aside from just helping us to pass the time. Eager to understand more about work friendships, I reached out to Alison Blackler of 2minds about the benefits of work friendships.
“Humans are social creatures and wired to connect. Because of this, there are great benefits from having friendships at work. They can increase a sense of belonging and purpose. We all want to feel like a valued and accepted member of a team, and physically connecting with each other is critical. Given that we can spend around 40 hours a week at work, this social interaction promotes good mental health. We are more likely to feel more engaged in the role, and this leads to greater job satisfaction.”
As Alison mentioned, we’re social creatures at our core, and so we’re constantly searching for that interaction with others. It drives us to scroll through Instagram stories or download Tinder for the fifth time. That human interaction is present in our work life too. Naturally, we’re focused on a paycheck and fulfillment, but right after those values comes the social belonging we seek. It feels great to be part of a team. I could see that every time my company took us on a trip. There was something about being brought together under a united purpose that made you feel closer - especially after a wine tasting!
But aside from how work friendships benefit our sense of community and mental well-being, they’re also advantageous for the company itself. You might not initially think so, given the time spent gossiping at the coffee machine or ducking out early for post-work drinks, but work friendships actually allow us to be more productive.
Alison also said, “Something else that is really important to harness is peer accountability. This means that teams are more likely to pull together, help each other out and close teams are more productive. Close-knit team members are more likely to problem-solve, and creativity can flow when they share a physical space. These can be ‘kitchen’ or ‘photocopier’ conversations where they are more likely to innovate and share best ideas.”
Work friendships provide an intimacy in which creativity thrives. They allow us to be more forthcoming in ideas and work as a unit.
Emma joined the company in May of 2021, a full year after we got sent home to work, and about seven months since we decided to stay remote. Emma and I would split the marketing between us, and be working closely. Initially, we forged a professional relationship. We’d discuss ideas, check each other’s copy and engage in polite conversation.
But within a few months, that had changed entirely. Somewhere along the way, we became work besties. We began talking on Whatsapp as well, commenting on each other’s Instagram posts and even sending voice notes (a true testament to intimacy). I quickly considered Emma to be one of my close friends, but I had never even met her. I only knew what she looked like from the waist up and in 2D.
I met Emma for the first time that November, when she came to the Netherlands to visit the office. I remember being nervous. I felt like I knew her so well, and yet we had never actually met. What if I didn’t recognise her in person? What if the conversation felt awkward? Were we close enough to hug or just a little wave? It was like I was meeting my prison pen pal after six months of letters.
As always, I shouldn’t have even worried. Emma and I quickly joked about the fact that we were meeting essentially for the first time, and everything following that was great. I was genuinely sad when she had to return home at the end of the week.
To me, Emma is a prime example of how a work bestie can still evolve in remote working. It may be rarer, an exception rather than a rule, but it’s possible. I grew up in the MSN to Facebook generation, so I’m no stranger to expressing myself in limited characters. Even now, some of my closest friends live hours away, and yet I’m fully up-to-date with their lives and recurring characters.
Maybe work friendships can continue to exist online, but require a different approach, and more effort to get there.
With remote interactions, you have less to work with. You can’t see if you’re oversharing quite as clearly, and body language is limited. It’s important to remember that not everyone is actively looking for a work bestie, and you shouldn’t be either. Friendships with colleagues are wonderful when they happen, but not something that can be forced nor required.
The best way to forge work friendships in a remote setting is to enter with openness. Aim to be yourself in interactions, and don’t shy away from water cooler chat when it emerges. It could be as simple as starting meetings with personal chat, or even scheduling in time for non-work related chitchat.
Avoid only using general questions, such as asking how their weekend was, as many can’t differentiate whether you’re genuinely interested or politely asking. Instead, be more specific. Mention a film you watched and ask if anyone has seen it, perhaps recommend it in your chosen work chat. Ask if anyone has upcoming holiday plans, or ask for tips for a specific destination. Show genuine interest in your colleagues, and don’t feel nosy if you follow up. Ask them how their holiday was, and if there was a specific highlight.
It also helps to follow colleagues on personal channels, as some really differentiate between their work and private self. You can ask if anyone has Twitter or Instagram, but also do keep in mind that some may choose to keep those private. That isn’t a reflection on you but rather their boundaries, which should be respected. Perhaps mention something on your Instagram, or say you wanted to forward them a post, and see how they react, whether they choose to follow you.
According to research by Gallup, people who have a close friend in the workplace are seven times more likely to be engaged in their jobs. Work friendships increase employee satisfaction and with it, employee retention. While there’s nothing wrong with keeping your work and private life separate, you will ultimately spend almost 25% of your week at your job. So make that time a little more fun, and a little more honest, by finding a work bestie. Even if they stay within the confines of your job, there’s nothing wrong with that, some friends can be for 9-5 and others for 5-9. I truly can’t recommend it enough, as I hit the jackpot when it comes to a work bestie, and she makes 9 am meetings on a Monday bearable.
Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
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