Working from home certainly has its advantages. But if you’re the new guy or gal on staff, a remote workplace might seem challenging at first. You can’t rely on the convenience of casual office interactions to help you develop relationships with co-workers. We have advice on making remote work friends when chatting in the kitchen or stopping by someone’s cubicle is out of the question.
The Benefits of Making Friends at Work
During the pandemic, researchers discovered that remote employees who had work friends felt less isolated and more fulfilled by their job. They also saw a direct link between social connection at work and productivity. Employee productivity stayed the same or improved with the switch to remote work, except for one group: people who felt less connected to their colleagues were also less productive.
Every boss will like that research finding—and here’s another one. A Gallup study found that remote employees with work friendships were more fulfilled, more loyal, and less likely to seek work elsewhere. “When employees possess a deep sense of comradery with their team members, they are driven to take positive actions that benefit the business—actions they may not otherwise even consider.” That’s all the evidence you probably need to help your new remote employees make friends at work.
How to Make Remote Work Friends
Making friends at work takes effort—an effort you should make because you don’t want to send the wrong signal to colleagues. Jot out a plan for getting to know your co-workers and creating opportunities for them to get to know you.
Let Your Backgrounds Do Some of the Talking
When on Zoom, your background—real or virtual—serves as a conversation starter. It says something about you and lets people see what you have in common. “You’re a mom/dad/cat parent/dog owner too!” Co-workers get a sense of your hobbies and tastes from the musical instruments, books, sports equipment, art, photos, or belongings in the background.
What does your background say (or not say) about you?
How can you change it to reveal more of your personality or prompt a welcome conversation?
Be Worthy of a Work friendship
Make the effort to get colleagues to know, like, and trust you. Follow the Golden Rule and these work commandments:
Be reliable. Respond promptly. Deliver on promises and expectations.
Be honest. Always do the right thing.
Be nice. Everyone needs more kindness right now.
Be appreciative. Thank people for their words and deeds.
Take Advantage of Existing Opportunities
Arrive 5 to 10 minutes before a Zoom meeting starts and chat with whoever else shows up. Don’t be the first to leave. Hang out a little longer with co-workers unless they’re staying put for a private meeting.
Join discussions in off-topic channels on Slack or the collaboration platform your association uses as a virtual watercooler. Be curious about others—without acting stalkerish, of course.
Schedule Conversations with Co-workers
Since you can’t run into colleagues in the hall, you must be intentional about getting to know them. During your “honeymoon” period, you have the perfect excuse for initiating conversations because you need to learn more about the organization, in particular:
Their department’s work, goals, and priorities
Their view on membership or industry issues
Their take on mutual challenges or your department’s challenges
Set up a virtual coffee break, lunch break, or happy hour with them, but don’t ask for an hour, ask for 15-20 minutes maximum. They’re more likely to say “yes” to a shorter commitment. You could help them imagine what it must be like in your shoes by joking about the challenges of learning about your new organization from afar.
Schedule the meeting at their convenience, not yours. Stick to the 20 minutes unless they insist on talking longer. During these conversations, spend more time listening than talking. These meetings may feel awkward at first, like a first date, but once you do a few, they’ll feel more natural.
Look for Personality Clues—and Watch Your Own
You don’t have as much personal intel to go on when you can’t overhear conversations like in the office. In Zoom meetings, it’s hard to detect body language and other non-verbal clues, so you have to seek clues to someone’s personality in their messages and emails.
A colleague’s communication style might offer insight. Are they concise to the point of rude? Chit-chatty? Methodical and detailed? Slap-dash and flighty? Warm and welcoming? When you figure out their communication preferences, you’ll know the best way to respond.
Think about how your behavior might appear to others so you don’t accidentally offend anyone. For example, it might look like you’re not paying attention if you’re taking notes during a Zoom meeting, so let people know what you’re doing.
Don’t Take Brush-Offs Personally
Because co-workers don’t regularly see you in the elevator or the hallway, they might forget you. Preemptively remind them of your name and role when meeting with them.
If people don’t respond to your efforts, don’t jump to conclusions. You don’t know what’s going on with them. Maybe they’re overwhelmed with work and have no time for “the new guy” right now. Or they might have other issues, like a difficult history with your department or predecessor.
Whatever you do, don’t shut down or give up on them, but don’t badger them for time. Tread kindly and lightly. Treat them how you would like to be treated.