For all the comfort that working remotely might offer, there’s one crucial aspect of spending time with others in-person is proving difficult to replace: friendship. In an 18-month study of a Fortune 500 technology firm with a remote workforce, researchers found that virtual teammates faced significant barriers to developing friendships.
With that said, the researchers also found that some team members were able to find ways around the challenge of remoteness to develop not only positive working relationships but also friendships as well.
If you’re working or studying remotely and want to make friends, here are a few steps you can take to help you form a more meaningful bond with colleagues.
Organize work sprints: During a work sprint, two or more people sign into a video conference and, after exchanging a few hellos, settle into their individual projects. They keep their video applications on but move them to the back of their desktops and study individually or work in silence. Breaks are scheduled at a designated stopping point, but not required. You might be asking: how does a work sprint facilitate socialization and potential friendship? While sprints may not seem like ideal moments to socialize, the safe space of a video call — without the pressure of a meeting agenda — allows for moments that end up building friendships. The non-work discussions at the beginning of the call, as well as the opportunity to view another person’s work habits and the small breaks you take together, are all ways to build cadence.
Set up a fika meet: Fika is a Swedish tradition that translates simply into “have coffee.” But it is much more than getting a warm drink. Fika is a ritual meetup between two people who are taking a break from work to socialize. The coffee is just an excuse to connect. Many remote companies have begun to experiment with digital fikas and have found them a vital tool for building connections. Try scheduling a short time to chat with a colleague or classmate about non-work topics during the week. Think about questions you might want to ask ahead of time to get the conversation, whether it’s about new Netflix shows or dishes you’ve been making while at home.
Fika doesn’t just have to be a one-on-one conversation. You can also organize a fika for your whole community. To keep it going over time, recruit volunteers and randomize them into pairs each week. You’ll not only ensure you’re making new friends, but you’ll also develop a reputation for being a friendship “matchmaker.”
Plan shared meals: A recent study showed that workers who eat communal meals — traditional in Chinese and Indian cultures, and known as “family style” in the West — often collaborate better and reach deals faster. But while you may not be able to do this in-person, you can have a communal meal during a video call.
For example, the 10-person distributed company Lawyerist regularly holds “Taco Tuesday” lunches in which team members order tacos from their local restaurant and join in a video call to share lunch together. The tacos are optional, but anyone who comes and shows their tacos gets the cost of the meal covered by the company.
We know it’s challenging to make friends online, but we hope these tips might help you make some new meaningful connections as you work remotely.