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How to Create Connections at Work

three coworkers having together

In an era when many people struggle with feelings of isolation and loneliness—shown to reduce immune function and erode sleep quality—we find fewer opportunities to cultivate the relationships we need to feel connected to other people—and our world.

Beyond the toll on our health and well-being, losing connection negatively impacts our interpersonal skills. We tend to misread social cues and miscommunicate more often, and the lack of growth opportunities and exposure to new ideas stunts our personal and professional progress.

Since our work makes up a large part of our daily lives, it’s easy to recognize the significance of work relationships. Unfortunately, more and more people are working remotely, which removes the possibility of spontaneous encounters that spark new connections and keep others growing. For others, making friends at work feels like sacrificing time they could use to get ahead (or even just get their work done). This sounds reasonable—but recent research suggests that there are plenty of reasons why making connections at work helps us perform our jobs better:

  • Work connections—and overall relational skills—are essential for solving problems, generating opportunities for advancement, and fostering emotional intelligence and other soft skills.
  • Feeling connected at work contributes to job satisfaction, productivity, and overall well-being.
  • People who have a sense of belonging are better able to manage stress, which can lead to better mental health overall. When it comes to being part of a team, research suggests that feelings of camaraderie can help us perform better on cognitive tests.

Types of Connections

Being connected doesn’t require being “best buds” with every colleague. Every person is different regarding what level of connection they need to thrive. While some would define connectedness as having at least one close friend on their team, others might feel a sense of belonging just by being with a group of people that spend time together and share at least one interest or value. According to BetterUp, most people fall into one of three workplace connectedness profiles, depending on the relationship type they prefer to foster at work and what they need to feel connected.

Close friends

About a third of those polled prefer to form genuine friendships with one or more of their colleagues. This might involve spending time with them outside work and sharing hopes, dreams, and concerns.

Friendly colleague

Most people polled said they prefer simply being on ‘friendly terms’ with their colleagues, getting to know a little about each other’s personal lives but not concerning themselves with more profound matters.

Strictly professional

A smaller percentage of people polled prefer to keep their personal and professional lives separate and would rather limit interactions to shared smiles and a common understanding of roles within the confines of the work environment.

How to Make More Connections

Making connections at work will look a little different for everyone based on individual needs and the existing work environment and culture. The actions below are just a few tips to start making more—or deeper—connections.

Understand what you need

If you crave deeper personal connections but have few or none at work, this is a strong indicator that you may need to create a plan to address your needs and advocate for more opportunities to connect.

Accept discomfort

It can be uncomfortable to put yourself out there, but it’s worth it. Accept that you might experience discomfort, especially if you’ve been out of practice.

Start small

You can ease into connecting with some simple actions: offer a positive ‘hello’ to everyone you pass, make more eye contact, smile more often, offer to help someone, respond promptly to requests, admit mistakes, etc.

Make time

Sometimes connecting more comes down to carving out a few moments to do so: show up to the lunchroom early so you can chat a bit with co-workers without feeling rushed, create shared rituals (tea at two, anyone?), establish a group to connect around a shared interest, etc.

Get curious

Most connections are created through mutual interest, but someone needs to go first. Start by asking questions and being a good listener. Try to understand the people you work with better. If you learn something important to them (a birthday, an achievement, etc.), offer congratulations or well wishes.

Be honest

People respond positively to those who are authentic. Don’t try to be someone you are not. Do allow yourself to be a bit vulnerable and open.

Don’t force it

Deeper connections take time to develop. Also, not everyone needs the same type of connections at work to thrive. If someone isn’t open to connecting on the same level as you, keep it where it is. Someone else might be more in line with you.

Connecting While Remote

Working remotely offers up numerous obstacles to fostering a sense of connection. Separated by space (and sometimes time), we miss out on the in-person micro-moments and other face-to-face interactions that lead to a sense of connection and belonging. However, it is possible to reconstruct some of these critical interactions—it just takes a bit of extra effort.

You can start by spending a few minutes at the start of each virtual call connecting with your team on a personal level. However, some people are very tactical and focused on the work and may become frustrated by the delay if not given a reason for it. So, make sure the other person (or people) on the call know why it’s important to you and get their buy-in before launching into your exciting weekend adventure or asking them to share theirs.

Creating a sense of connection while remote may require collaboration with your entire team and higher-ups to formally address any cultural or practical barriers to connection. This might involve initiating new ways to connect, like scheduling personal check-ins with one another or planning more in-person team-building events.

It might take some extra effort to create and maintain connections at work, especially since most of us are out of practice. But, it can be a worthy endeavor. Feeling more connected at work can create a sense of mutual support which not only serves you but also benefits the people you connect with and the organization as a whole.

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