01 Oct 3 Ways to Make Friends Remotely
The Covid-19 crisis has forced masses of people into work-from-home scenarios and just about every university student into a study-from-home experiment. Six months into the pandemic, it’s clear that virtual offices and classrooms have become the “new normal” for many of us — at least for the foreseeable future.
While our remote lifestyles may make some parts of our lives easier (less stressful commutes, more flexible hours, the ability to wear pajamas instead of pants), one crucial element of spending time with others in-person is proving difficult to replace: friendship.
In one 18-month study of a Fortune 500 technology firm with a largely remote workforce, researchers found that virtual teammates faced significant barriers to developing friendships. This is a problem, as we’ve known for some time now that having friends (at work and at school) makes us more engaged, more productive, and more satisfied in all areas of our lives.
To understand how to overcome this problem, the researchers conducted more than 100 interviews with employees and even observed a virtual “meetup.” While remoteness was a major challenge, they discovered that some team members were able to find ways around it and develop not only positive working relationships, but friendships as well.
Team members who had the most success making friends also had the ability to establish what researchers call cadence — when someone has a clear understanding of who they are interacting with, and therefore, can more easily predict how to best communicate with them. Once a work-related cadence was established, the study showed that non-work bonds, like talking about personal lives, connecting on social media, or reaching out for support after a setback, became much easier to build.
If you are struggling to make friends remotely, here are a few steps you can take to build a cadence with others that will ultimately lead to a more meaningful bond.
Organize work sprints. While some people thrive in isolation, others need to feel like they are not alone to perform at their best. Partnering for work or study sprints is a way to meet the needs of both introverts and extroverts. During a 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.
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, the opportunity to view someone else’s work or study habits, and the small breaks you take together are all ways to build cadence.
I realized the power of work sprints accidentally. During the Covid-19 lockdown, I was helping my friend, researcher Amy Cuddy, organize a “Quarantine Writing Hour.” Every day at 11 am, writers across the globe joined her in a live group streaming session and wrote together in silence. At the end of the hour, we used the comments box to talk about what we each worked on, but also how we were coping with these strange times. When the lockdowns ended, I found two writing partners, and they’ve now become my close friends.
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 vital tool for building connections.
To practice this yourself, schedule a short time to chat with a colleague or classmate about non-work topics during the week. There’s no set agenda to a fika, but you can help seed the conversation by thinking about questions to ask each other ahead of time. For example, you might be looking for shows to add to your Netflix watchlist, or the best takeout restaurants to order from. This is your chance to hear a new perspective.
Even better than sending one invite, take the lead and 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. In an office or on a university campus, people break for meals often. It’s a chance for us to bond over an activity that humans have shared for centuries: eating. In fact, one 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. You might not be able to recreate a communal meal with your whole team, but you can add shared, virtual meals to everyone’s calendar.
My favorite example of this practice happens at the 10-person distributed company Lawyerist, which holds regular “Taco Tuesday” lunches. Team members join a video call to share lunch together. Simulating the communal meal, each person order tacos from their favorite local restaurant. It’s completely optional to join, but anyone who comes and shows their tacos gets the cost of the meal covered by the company.
Even if you are not able to cover the cost everyone’s food for your own communal meal, you can make it feel like a group experience by choosing the menu and curating the guest list. Or, if you’re doing “shared meals” with classmates or peers, make it a habit by switching off who covers the cost each time.
As we head into new jobs, or new semesters, many of us will have to start over, and part of that includes turning new colleagues and classmates into new friends. Find solace in knowing that you’re not facing this situation alone. Sometimes all it takes is a little initiative to get the ball rolling.
Source: Harvard Business Review