Between April 2020 and February 2021, Microsoft’s 2020 Work Trend Index reported that work relationships have shifted in an unfortunate direction. The study found that over the course of the pandemic year, chat channels designed to include entire teams had decreased by 5%, and toward the beginning of the pandemic, there was an astounding 87% increase in one-on-one or small chat groups. However, as remote work became rote, companies have become quite siloed, and even interactions with close teammates have significantly diminished.

This has taken a toll on workers, whose profound loneliness is evident not only in the data but the numerous self-reports emerging from media sources of all kinds. The remote work world seems to have taken not only our ability to communicate with colleagues but also our potential for fostering friendships.

Ultimately, not having friends in the workplace can impact more than just your social life. If you don’t feel connected to your team, you won’t necessarily have the motivation to work for and with them. Over the past year and a half, many remote workers have had new faces join their teams, or joined new teams themselves – so how do these remote workers make new friends?

Plugged in, but not connected

It’s entirely possible that you’re spending up to five hours a day on your work’s Slack or Teams chat, but you’re feeling more disconnected than ever. Younger generations are especially having a tougher time, and the Work Trend Index notes that 18-25 years old with entry-level jobs are experiencing burnout at a higher percentage rate than any other generation. Imagine if you couldn’t drop by a co-worker’s desk during your very first job, or go out for drinks after work with your colleagues. For some, an entirely remote job can be devastatingly isolating, and sadly, there’s no clear return to work in sight.

Whether you’re one of the people who’s started a new job over the pandemic or you’re just someone with a few new teammates, this is especially why making friends at work is so important. Even if you think that you have enough friends, you can always take the opportunity to take some fresh talent under your wing, and let them know that there’s a social world outside of their Google Workspace just waiting to be explored.

Friend-making 101

1. Socializing on social media

Pretty much all companies have a “random” or a “break room” Slack channel, but anyone who frequents it knows that the environment feels much more controlled than in real life. Often, you’ll notice that your work Slack is used for non-problematic small talk featuring memes, inside jokes, or gossip vaguely related to the office. As there’s something a bit uncomfortable about big brother monitoring the content of all your once-private office chit-chat, it can be hard to strike up a conversation while also attempting to remain business-professional.

Don’t let it dissuade you, however, from tapping into the random chat every once and a while. You might get the sense of someone’s personality, likes, and dislikes that would make you interested in linking up with them outside the depersonalized, emoji-filled world of messaging apps.

If you do find one or two people who seem more authentic than others, don’t hesitate to reach out (in an appropriately contemporary way, of course). Following some of your coworkers on social media, especially ones that you feel have the potential for friendship, can be a great way to scope out these budding friendships before you make any kind of commitment to a private conversation.

2. Just say it!

Sure, in 2021, it’s much easier to have your right-swiping do the talking when it comes to making a partnership. But lo and behold, though we live in a modern world, we still have what oldsters refer to as “conversation.” Your grandfather wouldn’t have met your grandmother at the five-and-dime-cent store if he hadn’t just gone up and asked her for a date, and the human ability to engage, relate and connect hasn’t completely dissipated simply because we now do it through a screen.

It’s not embarrassing, desperate or clingy to ask someone if they want to get a drink or coffee, even if it’s over a video call. Choose a milestone, like a big project or deadline, or perhaps the start of a new venture as your launching point for a prospective hangout. If you’re close enough to meet in real life, you can also plan something like picking up your favorite ice cream flavors and watching a reality show while texting about it. The options are entirely dependent upon the friendship you’re choosing to forge, and there’s no one way to go about making a new friend.

3. Plan some fun

If you’ve already made one or two friends, congratulations! Don’t stop there – here’s where you can really connect with some new faces by planning out some office-adjacent fun. Making an effort to have fun might seem like it’s draining some of the excitement, as spontaneity can often be both refreshing and informative. It teaches you about which co-workers will have a margarita at lunch on a Friday and which will just stay at their desk and eat a sandwich. While these days hybrid work is heavily scheduled, it doesn’t mean that you can’t pepper a bit of excitement into your workday, even if you have to plan it out.

On a scheduled in-person day, make a plan with your new office friend to check out a new French fry shop in your area, or a brunch place down the block. Check the schedule and see who else is working that day, and if your coworker thinks you’d all click, ask if they’d like to come along. The same thing applies if the roles are reversed, and you’re the one who’s introducing the newbie to potential office friends. Don’t set your sights higher than a three- or four-person hangout, as that could make others in the office feel excluded, especially if you’re working on a team that rarely goes in-person.

If you’re all remote, just extend your ice cream-eating and TV-watching into a group chat form, and see if you all click. Once you’ve made two or three emerging work friendships, it’s time to move on to step four.

4. Go outside your network

Now that you’re an expert friend-maker, and you’ve warmed up to the people you talk to on a frequent basis, you’re ready to spread your wings and fly to your extended network. Microsoft’s 2020 Work Trend Index showed that as the pandemic progressed, people discarded their broader networks and relied more on the people in their immediate social circles. To branch back out and meet some friendly faces, you can easily venture outside the office using the office friends you’ve already made.

Tell your new work buddies that you’re looking to meet some new people, and plan a small hangout where you each bring one or two friends from outside of work if possible. If you’ve recently moved to the area, or don’t have too many friends to bring, don’t hesitate to tell your understanding new work friend, as they’ll bring the party for you. Again, this tends to be much easier when you’re in person, but it’s not an impossible feat to accomplish remotely. Between online games, cooking recipes together, playing internet karaoke, or PowerPoint nights, there are options both synchronously and asynchronously for connectivity and fun, as long as you’re open to it.

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