Remote working is mostly working for us, but what about our work friendships, is our work BFF relationship over for good?
A Facebook memory pops up and sometimes you can skip by them without too much thought, but often they give you pause to reflect and reminisce.
It was one night last week when I was scrolling aimlessly through my phone, whilst watching the final episode of And Just Like That, I was simultaneously questioning my productivity yet marvelling at my multitasking capabilities.
On my screen a photo appeared that I had taken at a friend’s house. I was on maternity leave, and she was working part time. The photo is of her 4-year-old daughter holding my 8-week-old son.
I sent the photo to my friend, along with a ‘look what I found and btw how are you?’ message. For the next 20 minutes or so went back and forth, discussing all manner of things. We have one of those friendships that you can pick up from where you left off from and in our case, we had a good 6 months to report on.
Later that night I started thinking about my friend and how we first met. I interviewed her 25 years ago for a job and within a few months of that we became colleagues. We worked together for maybe a decade. We laughed, argued, cried, and cheered each other on. As colleagues we shared similar goals and the obligatory highs and lows universal to our industry. Expectations were high and the days were long so by design we spent a lot of time together meaning we also shared significant personal milestones, bad breakups, new relationships, marriage, infertility and finally motherhood.
A friendship that began at work but has lasted beyond the workplace. A chance meeting because she applied for a job. Social serendipity.
There are an overwhelming number of friendships that are first formed in the workplace, I know this not just because I have experienced it but because I have heard the stories. Countless tales of team members who become team netballers, peers who become partners and colleagues turned besties. Late last year I wrote a blog piece that described my work friends from my first job in recruitment, and how lucky I was that so many of them came to celebrate my 50th birthday in 2020. The loudest table in the room because shared history can get noisy.
I have interviewed thousands of people in my time as a recruiter and I am never surprised to hear that when a candidate talks about their workplace, they will often talk about the personal connections they have with those who they work with. Friendships united at first by convenience and often necessity, beyond just politeness and teamwork, emerging into something real and genuine.
As research has found that people who have friendships at work are 70% more likely to be engaged employees with increased levels of happiness and productivity. As I am writing this now, I can hear in the background the conversation between two employees. They are laughing about an unfortunate dating experience one had on the weekend. I have zero concern about productivity or workloads, the sound of their joyful banter brings me joy. They are comfortable in each other’s company; they are supportive and encouraging of one another. It has long been said that since we spend so much time at work, we are going to form connections. Not all connections are created equal, so when they are positive and meaningful, they bring enormous value to a workplace. Having a friend at work is not just about sharing the laughs but it can also help navigate the inevitable bad days we encounter.
This all begs the question that if we are not physically at work as much, has the rise of remote working and hybrid work arrangements had an impact on our work friendships? Are we making less friends and is the quality of those friendships different to the pre pandemic days?
I think of the friendships I have now and reflect on whether they would be as magnificent as they were back then if the formative years of those friendships occurred during the pandemic. Would we have laughed at each other as much over zoom as we did back in the days of the shared office lunch table. A lifetime ago after a dreadful weekend resulting in a relationship breakdown, I remember coming to work on the Monday morning and within the hour, my work friend, my confidant, knew instantly and intuitively that something was not right. Sure, I had friends outside of work to share my angst with, but sometimes the distance of a work friend to your outside life is just what you need. Would she have picked up on my misery over zoom?
Overwhelmingly the research is clear, having friends at work impacts our quality of work, our efficiency and our wellbeing. But remote working in some form is here to stay and we can all agree that there are enormous benefits to having flexibility working from home. So now as we are permanently transitioning to more precedented times, our friendships may also permanently transition and that’s okay, just as long as we don’t lose sight of their significance and remember there is joy in the physical presence of working with friends.