Navigating friendships between colleagues: Advice from two office besties
As we continue to work from home due to COVID-19, we’ve realized how much we miss our office space. It’s not only a place where we gather to punch the clock, it’s a place where we argue over where the best pizza spot is, host taste tests to determine whether organic is better than conventional fruit and have indoor snowball fights. Yes, we have done all of these recently.
We are Lisa and Evelyn, and we have decided to talk about our friendship, the benefits of office friendships and how workplaces can support them, as well as some of the lessons we’ve learned along the way.
For some background, I started at Systemscope in May of 2018 as a Co-op student. I was assigned a desk in what we call the “back office,” where I was greeted by my colleagues and immediately welcomed into their exceptionally affable work environment.
Lisa and I had desks in plain sight of each other, so we would often bounce ideas off each other and joke back and forth. Being both above-average-height brunettes and spending more time together than with our loved ones, it wasn’t long before people started to think we were related.
I remember Evelyn joining us and wondering if I would lose the ‘tallest girl in the office’ title. Once I got over that, it became apparent that Evelyn’s work ethic and attitude were both traits that I admired.
We have this thing in the office where if you do something embarrassing once, it stays with you for a long time. I won’t mention it specifically, but Evelyn brought a questionably wrapped lunch once. When we continued to tease her about it, I think that is when we broke the ice and were able to banter back and forth. I hope this isn’t seen as office bullying. I swear she made fun of my habits too.
How workplaces can promote workplace friendship
We have seen many friendships blossom from working at Systemscope. The consideration of personalities and overall fit is a huge part of the hiring process, and the result is a team of colleagues well-suited to work together who each bring their own skills and experience to the table. Systemscope’s environment is thus especially habitable for office friendships, but any workplace can cultivate this type of supportive and amicable environment.
We have outlined areas to focus on to encourage friendships in your workplace.
In order for office friendships to thrive, they need to be supported by the workplace and not discouraged as a ‘waste of time.’ We have found that Systemscope’s social gatherings throughout the year, including the Christmas party, bi-annual staff retreats and other spontaneous celebrations, demonstrate the organization’s support of office friendships. When leadership holds events and social gatherings, it encourages ongoing staff engagement outside of the usual project context. It is in these conversations that coworkers can find commonalities and spark real friendships.
As things change in the world, we know that in-person gatherings may not be a regular staple for the workplace. But this does not mean that office socialization grinds to a halt! Workplaces can host virtual retreats and happy hours over Zoom, participate in funny Photoshop challenges over email, and engage in lively non-work-related group chats over Slack.
When new employees are hired, it is important that they get to know the people who they will be engaging with daily. Organizing a socially distanced coffee break or having lunch with a new colleague the week they arrive is a great opportunity to welcome them, and get to know their hobbies, interests, and quirks. Setting this up in the first week signals the openness to engage as friendlies. What’s more, developing friendships at the beginning of a new job can be hugely impactful on a new employee’s onboarding and overall experience in the workplace.
The make-up of the organizational structure will affect the ability to make friendships. In organizations where siloes exist, or a focus on “keeping in your lane,” there is less exposure to team members. This limits discussions that can lead to friendships. The flatter the structure, the more employees will have the opportunity to work with each other, creating relationships that would have never occurred without these barriers removed.
Things we learned
Like any relationship, you need to properly manage workplace friendships to keep them running smoothly. Here are a few lessons we have learned along the way:
Don’t take constructive criticism personally
While rare in most friendships, it is common in an office friendship to be in a position where you must critique your buddy’s work. Receiving constructive criticism can be hard even from a colleague you don’t know well, so when this criticism comes from a close friend whose opinions are near and dear to us, it can be difficult to know how to handle it.
We are both individuals who know we’re not always right. We take pride in the ability to learn from our mistakes, make improvements and try to do better next time. We had to learn how to offer and receive constructive criticism in a way that was honest but sensitive to the other’s feelings. As we expand on below, it is important to be able to pause a close friendship and turn into colleagues when it comes to project work.
It’s not always playtime
We work well together because we know our priorities. Joking around is fun, but projects always come first. All parties need to know when to turn the banter off in order to keep office friendships from impacting productivity. When there is a task to do, office besties should temporarily convert their relationship from friends to colleagues and get down to work.
Motivate rather than compete
Friendships can often be fueled by a competitive spirit. The goal is to allow that competition to push each other to do better, not to hinder the other’s success.
We work in the same office and have similar traits, but we don’t have the same skills. This allows us to work collaboratively and bring our own perspectives and skills to the table. It has always been important to us that we be happy instead of jealous when the other is put on an extra cool project. We often just ask the other lots of questions to live vicariously through them!
Besides that great feeling of finding another human to spend time with, office friendships actually have many benefits for the workplace and the individuals involved. Office friendships have been proven to increase emotional well-being, job satisfaction, loyalty and productivity, while decreasing workplace stress. Here’s some science to back us up.
We can confidently say our experiences at Systemscope have been positively impacted by each other’s presence. When on projects, we are productive because we know how the other works, our increased level of comfort at the office makes us highly engaged in office affairs and activities, and our work benefits from having the other as a sounding board for all of our ideas.
The benefits of office friendship, however, go beyond work. The value of having someone to share a giggle with and who will support you in times of crisis is immeasurable.
A final piece of advice from two office besties
While interpersonal connection may be more difficult to achieve in a time where we are asked to stay home and at a safe distance from others, there are still ways to connect with your peers.
Check in virtually with your colleagues, organize virtual lunches, host trivia nights, and share stories of how you’re coping. Reaching out to people can have a bigger effect than we may know. You never know what wonderful friendship could blossom from it.