By Jiji Lee

How to Make Friends at Work


Tips for maintaining a friendship at work (even when it's all online).

We’ve all heard the reality show cliche “I’m not here to make friends.”

But when it comes to your office life, it can be quite meaningful to make friends at work. 

Human beings are social creatures by nature. We need to share conversation and a good laugh. We need to be able to blow off steam and vent. If we don’t have social outlets, it can feel isolating and difficult to cope with the pressures of work. Plus, having work friends just makes the work day go by quicker! :)

While it may seem like we already spend so much time interacting with coworkers, it can be worthwhile to develop connections with them that are more than transactional. 

In fact, work friendships can actually improve our work lives as well as our performance. Numerous studies show that: “teams of friends perform better; that people with supportive coworkers have more work/life balance and are less stressed; that strong personal ties increase information- and idea-sharing, self-confidence, and learning; and that those who have close friends at work are more efficient in and satisfied with their jobs.”

But how does one actually make friends at work? This can be a challenge if you’ve recently transitioned to a new job or if you’re a freelancer, or if you’re working remotely as many of us are now. 

Luckily, you don’t have to miss out on work friendships just because you have an unconventional work arrangement. Below are some tips on how to become friends with your coworkers as well as ways that you can stay in touch with them.

Show your support

In the past, a simple way to make friends at work was to strike up a conversation at the water cooler or on the sidelines of a meeting. All you had to do was make small talk and you’d find out if you and a coworker shared similar interests. 

But how do we have these impromptu conversations if most of our interactions are over email? And how can we build on our common interests if we’re a freelancer or on a short-term contract? 

While sharing office space is an easy way to build instant connection, you don’t always have to be in the same room to make friends at work. Sometimes it’s less about physical presence and more about emotional availability. According to the Harvard Business Review: “There’s something even more key than proximity and similarity, though: reciprocity. True friends support one another, generating mutual positive feelings and personal growth.”

Here are simple ways you can show your support to coworkers:

  • Send an email congratulating a coworker on a great presentation or an article they wrote.
  • Offer your help if they need a second pair of eyes on a report.
  • If you’re a manager, show your gratitude for an employee or peer’s amazing work with a personal thank you card sent in the mail.
  • Listen to coworkers at meetings. If there are ways you can help -- by agreeing with them or amplifying/clarifying their ideas for the group -- step up for them.

A simple act of kindness can go a long way towards building a new connection. If you’re at a loss for what to do, think of the times that a coworker made you feel appreciated or heard. See if you can emulate that kind gesture with your current team. 

When in doubt, reach out. Especially when you’re working remotely, people don’t have the facial and body language cues to know when you’re supporting them; it’s easy to feel adrift in the digital void. If you feel something positive for someone, say it! Take the extra step to send them a message on Slack saying “That was so great!” or “I really appreciated when you ___!”.

Cultivate your work friendships

Work friendships are just like real-life friendships. You need to nurture them and establish trust. In the past, you could rely on a corporate retreat or work happy hours to build personal connections. But these days, many of us have to build relationships on a virtual level, while working from home. 

While online interactions may not seem as meaningful as in-person, these virtual engagements are actually great for building trust over a short period of time. This is especially true when it comes to video interactions. We feel so much closer to our colleagues once we’ve seen their messy living rooms or observed their child interrupting a meeting.

These glimpses into a coworker’s personal life can actually have positive impacts on professional relationships. According to this CNBC article

“When you’re able to pick up on non-verbal cues, or you’re invited into a colleague’s personal space, you form a deeper sense of intimacy much faster than you would in a traditional working environment...This creates the space for psychological safety to happen more quickly.” 

So if you’re feeling self-conscious about your bookshelf, don’t worry! These personal touches actually humanize you to your coworkers. You’re not just an employee in the marketing team, but a real person with genuine interests. This personalized frame of reference can impact how coworkers interact with each other. 

For example, if you know your coworker has young kids, you would re-consider sending a late night email or text. Or if you know that your coworker is a big movie buff, you could send an article you read that features a movie or director they might like. These little signs of support go a long way towards building your work friendships.

Here are other ways that you can cultivate ties with work friends:

  • Send fun, friendly notes with the Ink+Volt Private Memo pad. Sometimes greeting cards or memos are too formal for work friends, but text messages can be too personal. If you need a way to communicate that’s friendly while still being professional, these Private Memo pads are a great choice. 
  • Do something nice for them. If your colleague is working on their first presentation or report, send them a sample of one you did in the past or offer advice.
  • Is your coworker celebrating a birthday? Send them a gift card to their favorite coffee shop or gift them a cheerful stationary set. There are more ideas for coworker gifts here.  
  • Is your coworker leaving to join a new company? Wish them success with a beautiful new project planner or Kunisawa professional notebook.
  • Organize a mini-retreat or workshop. You don’t need a big corporate retreat to bond with your coworkers. Gather your colleagues and get to know them better with Reflection Cards. Each card has insightful questions like “What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever given?” or “What is one fear you would like to conquer?” Use these prompts for an ice-breaker the next time you have a team meeting. 

Staying in touch with friends at work

When you leave a company, it can be hard to maintain friendships with coworkers, especially when you’re busy learning the ropes and establishing new professional ties. While you and your old coworkers may not have the same frequency of interactions as you had in the past, you can still show up for them in small ways. 

Here are simple ways you can stay in touch with old coworkers or managers:

  • Send thank you cards to coworkers who inspired and encouraged you.
  • Share articles they might like and mention “this made me think of you”.
  • Is your coworker looking to change careers? Forward any job or training opportunities they might find interesting.
  • Arrange a virtual work reunion with colleagues.
  • Send personalized notes for birthdays or big milestones such as a retirement or birth announcement. 

We spend so much of our time and energy at work, it makes us more content to forge meaningful ties with colleagues. You don’t have to attend every single work or social event, but you can offer small gestures to show your support. 

It’s the simple and thoughtful touches that can go a long way towards building a long lasting connection.