Apr 08, 2019 in Viewpoint

Having friends at work boosts productivity and well-being

The research is clear. Having friends at work boosts productivity, retention, and well-being. But making friends at work can be harder than it seems, especially in large, flexible workplaces. In this piece, I discuss how organizations can use technology to make it easier for new and existing employees to integrate socially.

Anne Wernand
by Anne Wernand
Friends at work boost productivity and well-being
Having F*R*I*E N*D*S at work is nothing new

It’s no wonder that companies like Zappos, Google, and Dropbox work hard to create work environments that foster friendships. Friendships at work boost belonging and authenticity, which are both crucial contributors to psychological well-being. Furthermore, research shows that the most productive workgroups are those whose teammembers can identify a best friend at work. Fostering friendships at work, however, has its challenges, especially in large, flexible workplaces. Thankfully, localization and communication technology can help us shape accessible and inclusive social environments that foster friendships.

Friendships at work boost belonging and authenticity, which are both crucial contributors to psychological well-being

How to foster friendships at work?

As research shows, one key to fostering friendships at work is to increase the density of social interactions. There are several ways to do this. One way is through physical design. Companies like Pixar, for example, concentrate key amenities in central areas to foster spontaneous interactions. Yet even with such areas, it can be hard to join a spontaneous social moment. Let me explain why.

Let’s take a closer look at social interactions at work. They often take place in areas out of sight, like at the coffee machine or in the cafeteria. This can make it challenging for a person at their desk to see and join a social moment. What makes things even more difficult is that the timing of such social moments can be hard to predict. These circumstances are exacerbated in flexible workspace. With people sitting in different places every day, it can be even harder to arrange or join social moments. Thankfully, technology is here to help. Technology can help people form friendships at work by making social patterns more visible and accessible.

Localization technology to improve social interaction at work

Here’s how. Localization technology can be applied to determine when and where groups of people congregate, as is already done. An intelligent system can then take this information to invite others to join these moments. For example, a desktop pop-up could invite a newer hire to join a group of similarly-aged people that just gathered at a coffee machine. Better yet, the system could facilitate icebreakers. We can imagine digital signage at the coffee machine lighting up with the question: “Where was the last place you traveled?” Implementing such a system can be a great win, but we shouldn’t stop there.

Communication technology can also be used make social interactions more accessible. Many of us already use digital media to build and maintain social relationships with our colleagues. We can make these conversations more accessible by holding them on publicly visible channels like Slack. This helps foster inclusion, since any person can join a conversation. This can be especially valuable for people working remotely, who aren’t able to join physical social moments. We can go even further.

Increasing the relevancy of open communication channels can add even more value. Many of you have likely felt overwhelmed by group chats. In my case, I have been known to mute them. It may have helped my focus, but it also led me to miss out on social moments. So what if we could be alerted for only the most relevant conversations?  We can imagine, for example, receiving a notification from a group chat only when the participants are closeby and discussing taking a break for coffee. With intelligent systems analyzing open communication channels in this way, we can increase the likelihood that people will join social moments.

Now, what can we take away from this discussion? First, it’s clear that friendships at work have many benefits. They drive productivity, retention, and well-being. Second, what’s key to fostering friendships it to make the social patterns and communications at work more accessible. Localization and communication technology can help immensely here. So, whether you’re a leader that values your people or an enthusiastic employee, I invite you to apply technology to foster an inclusive social environment at work!

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