I love working remotely, but I feel more isolated than ever. How do I make friends with my co-workers? My company switched to remote work during the pandemic, and no one was in a hurry to return to the office any time soon. This means I’ll be working from home for a while too, but with friends leaving and new people starting to distance themselves, how can I reach out to them, or stay close to my current work friends?
You may think that the hardest part of starting a job – or even holding a job – while working remotely during a global pandemic is understanding how you can collaborate productively with your colleagues away from meeting rooms and lead by brainstorming sessions that , let’s face it, no one really likes them. But what I miss most is the unofficial communication: the smiles and claws of my office mates; people passing by my desk to say “hello”; and that sense of camaraderie that makes the trip at least partly worth it. It seems to be missing this as well.
Repair is fairly easy. Well, easy for me to write, not necessarily easy to put into practice. I even started a job (the one I have now, actually, here at WIRED) during the pandemic, and the first few steps were hard, but I’m happy to say that I made more friends in a year here than I could have ever imagined .
As long as we work remotely behind the screens, it will be hard so that some of us feel really connected to others. It’s true if you’ve started a job while everyone is away and you haven’t had the chance to meet anyone in person, or if you’ve been around for centuries and your current work friends have left for new concerts. The only real solution is to do what everyone hates: get out there and talk to people.
Ask them to jump into a video call with you just to chat about what you’re working on and what their interests are. Suggest a virtual coffee, or a virtual drink after work. (Oh ice, for people who don’t drink. My friend Karen Ho, sustainability journalist at Insider, he taught me that!) Make plans to apply after a big project is finished, for example. And follow! Reserve that 15-minute coffee break on your calendar so no one will forget it, and be willing to move on if you (or they) don’t feel like it today.
Not every opening should come in the form of an appointment on the calendar. Join the threads in Slack or Discord when someone says something funny. When a co-worker shares photos of cats in Slack, share adorable photos of your own. Every company (trust me, each company) Has Slack channels for jokes, memes, snack announcements, or just sharing stories and gossip. Immerse yourself and share! It will feel awkward at first, but the more you do it, the more people will respond favorably to you and the more you have a sense for what resonates with your peers and what doesn’t. Follow your collaborators on Twitter or Instagram or TikTok (if you feel confident doing so) and interact with them, kindly, letting them know that you appreciate their presence. Engage with them on a human level, not a collaborator trying to network.
So, am I really learning a little bit and talking to people? Brutus. I wish there was an easier answer, one that would let me sit on my ass and let go of respect and validation without having to be really vulnerable or stumble into my uncomfortable social anxiety. But a) we don’t always get what we want, and b) you ask a question that many of us have trouble answering even in the best of times, before “social distancing” was even a thing.