Future of work, Remote Working

Work Friends & Connectedness: is remote work a disaster?

Lydia Watson

“How do you two know each other?”

At a certain point in your life, the most common answer to this question is “We worked together”. Maybe it was your first big job in the city, or at the last terrible company you escaped, the workplace can bond people in a totally unique way.

But in the increasingly remote world of hybrid working, are we missing out on making ‘office friends’? And is colleagues seeing each other out-of-hours always a good thing?

Why is social connectedness important?

Social connections are key to our wellbeing. No big surprise there. But what may be surprising is the extent to which they’re important. 

Having good friends doesn’t just help us out mentally. Improving our physical health, preventing disrupted sleep and high blood pressure – our overall wellbeing is heavily influenced by  social connectedness, meaning, as we already know, employee wellbeing matters.

‘Does remote working mean the end of workplace friendships?’

That’s the question many have been asking. With social connectedness a crucial part of wellbeing, and wellbeing key to employee performance, maybe it’s worth considering. 

For some, the end of office working could lead to the ‘Death of the Office Friendship’ and a more lonely experience for many. Where people bonded over stressful and successful times, remote working could mean a sense of detachment from our colleagues. 

After all – it means after-work drinks, moaning about your boss at the weekend, and the general sense of ‘letting off steam’ will become a rarity. But these arguments may be missing the point. Whether you can still build these relationships in a hybrid workforce is one thing – the real question is, should you?

The lowdown on having friends at work

Let’s circle back to the reality of ‘office friendships’ themselves. In some parts of the world, the workplace is where people are most likely to make friends. So in terms of maintaining our own sense of social connectedness, having no friends at work is clearly not ideal.

And some research suggests this isn’t just good for our social wellbeing, it can make us better employees – with Gallup finding a link to higher performance at work. So why then do some people insist on the importance of keeping work life and social life separate? Let’s consider both sides…

“Work colleagues are not your friends”: the pros and cons of office friendships

Pros:

Cons:

  • Close friendships sometimes indicate a negative working environment, as people bond over challenging circumstances i.e. there are “no loners in foxholes”
  • Boundaries can be blurred: making performance reviews difficult, tasks set aside for socialising, and competition for progression more complicated
  • Personal conflict can arise, leading to negative outcomes for the whole team
  • Work-related conflict can be hard to resolve, as friends can come to a consensus too quickly to ‘keep the peace’

Being friendly at work is good… but focus on building teams, not friendships

At the end of the day, close personal relationships in the workplace can get complicated. But the benefits of these friendships can be replicated in a more sustainable way – by focusing on being appropriately authentic and compassionate. Promoting a friendly atmosphere, rather than the need to share all your secrets. 

You can also focus on promoting stronger teams, rather than stronger friendships. The all-in-it-together approach is a strong one – if it’s not motivated by overwork, stress, and discord – and that can be encouraged by recognising accomplishments and challenges, providing support, and being open on a team and company-wide level.

That’s not to say your employees won’t make friends. Just that you probably don’t need to worry about that side of social connection so much.

Use our social and emotional wellbeing framework – all built into one simple-to-send survey

If you are worried about the impact of remote working on social connectedness in your team, your first step is to see if it actually is a problem. And we’ve got an easy way to do that.

Our wellbeing survey helps you quickly, easily understand how your teams are doing – and shows you what’s driving any negative experiences. From there, it’s easy to identify if you should be prioritising social wellbeing.

The best part? It’s free, it takes 15 minutes to send, and the analysis is done for you. Check it out today:

It’s time to start the conversation

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