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Where are our work friends? Why companies need to build community

Business leaders don’t tend to think of work as a hub of social life for employees. Some even discourage socializing, assuming it cuts into productivity. That couldn't be farther from the truth. 

Over decades of employee engagement research, Gallup has found that workplace friendship directly correlates with higher productivity, improved workplace safety, and closer customer relationship.

Unsurprisingly, a healthy workplace social life is also a strong predictor of job satisfaction. The average adult will spend 81,396 hours of their life at work. A recent study from the American Survey Center found “Americans are now more likely to make friends at work than any other way.”  

So why isn’t the workplace doing more to foster those friendships? 

A lot of leaders think the fix is simple — go back to the office — and they’re increasingly forceful about implementing it.  Bring back the watercooler, problem solved. Right? 

Not quite. In-person work doesn’t actually have that much to do with work relationships, beyond the incidental proximity to other people. The state of work friendship reached its all-time low in 2013, a year many will recognize as a peak moment for office-perk mania. So if free lunch and foosball don’t bring people together, what does? Here’s where to start:

  1. Work meetings with social moments: This is an easy fix with huge impact. It’s as simple as setting aside a little time in your weekly staff meeting to ask people about their weekend or starting your next kickoff call with a music video or a silly trivia quiz. (Not sure how? We have some tips to get you started.)

    And to be clear, this isn’t the same as a social hour or team-bonding time. Those things don’t hurt, but they don’t have the same impact as social connection in the flow of work. 

  2. Different modes of communication. Not everyone is a video-on person. A lot of people find they can be their best, wittiest, and most social self in the chat or via emoji. Some people prefer to use reactions to chime in. There are a lot of different ways to be a social creature, and a good workplace enables all of them. So, by the way, does Gatheround ;)

  3. A lively async culture:  By the same token, friendship doesn’t have to happen live. Most people in the workforce today, from Gen X to Gen Z, have come to rely on messaging, emoji reactions, threads, and more as vital tools that supplement all of their social relationships. Coworking tools like Slack or Teams can be just as vibrant and engaging as any other online community or group chat.

  4. Strong, clear norms: Think of norms as the scaffolding that support a strong, social culture. By clarifying how the team approaches things like communication, decision-making, scheduling meeting time, and more, you can reduce sources of friction and strengthen affinity, alignment, and shared goals, bringing people closer together.

  5. Occasional, intentional in-person time: While a physical office delivers a lot of low-quality incidental time together, a really great workplace — remote, hybrid, or otherwise — is very purposeful about delivering high-quality time together. In other words: you can lead a really great, high-impact planning meeting or ideation session on Gatheround

    When you get together in person? Go for a hike, get a meal, go do karaoke. Spend live team time on things that the virtual world hasn’t solved for yet.  

Want more insights into the high cost of workplace loneliness (and strategies for solving for it?) Catch our CEO, Lisa Conn, diving deep into this topic on the SECURE podcast with Charles Lattimer, Chief Innovation Officer at FinFit.