With recent lockdowns across New Zealand, work looks different for a lot of people now. Perhaps you’ve been apart from your colleagues and miss the lunches or hallway chats. Maybe your workplace has to do things differently and you feel like morale has suffered. Or perhaps you’re wondering how you can start over again with new colleagues in a new workplace.
Whatever the situation, many of us are wondering about the best ways to connect with our colleagues given the changes we’ve experienced due to COVID-19.
In fact, a 2021 poll on SEEK’s Twitter account revealed that 49% of Kiwis have found it harder to build and maintain relationships with their colleagues since COVID-19 disrupted our workplaces. What’s more, two in five Kiwis feel that workplace relationships have become more important compared to before the pandemic.
So, what does it take to build strong relationships with your workmates?
SEEK’s Resident Psychologist Sabina Read says several key factors help establish and maintain working relationships. “The first factor is proximity and geography, but for many of us that’s been disrupted due to the pandemic,” she says.
“While it’s helpful for workplace relationships if you’re physically in the same space as your colleagues, there are other ways to grow new working relationships and preserve existing ones.”
- Turn up the frequency
“Without physical proximity, how often you’re connecting with your colleagues becomes much more important,” Sabina says. “You can’t just check in with them once a month and think that’s enough to maintain a fulfilling working relationship.”
Read suggests purposefully ‘feeding’ your relationship with your workmates by sending emails, text or voice messages, initiating phone calls and video catch ups. “This helps people feel connected to one another,” she says.
“If you don’t attend to your working relationships and commit to maintaining them, your connection will fall by the wayside and ultimately this impacts your satisfaction at work.”
Think about how often you connect with your colleagues now and aim to increase the number of touchpoints. “It might only be by one a day, but it soon adds up and will make a big difference,” Read says.
- Look for similarities
Noticing the similarities you have with your workmates can help build strong professional relationships. “Your similarities might be work related, such as people who are interested in managerial roles or those who want to learn a new skill,” Read says.
“Or you might look for similarities outside of work. For example, you might have a colleague who also has teenagers.” These likenesses can be used as building blocks to help you establish or maintain connections. You could start by striking up a chat asking someone for their thoughts or advice on a certain similarity you have – you’ll probably find they’re glad to have someone to chat to about it.
- Focus on reciprocity
“We tend to be drawn to people who we think are drawn to us,” Read says. “Spend some time thinking about each of your colleagues and what you could do for them.”
You might have a workmate who wants to speak up during meetings, but finds it difficult. You can help them grow their confidence by being thoughtful and sensitive. For example, you could encourage them to share their thoughts in a meeting by saying something like, ‘Sarah, I know you have some great ideas on this issue, what do you think?’
“This lets them know you have their back,” Read says. “It also makes your colleague feel supported and they’re likely to look out for you in the future too.”
- Feed mutual interests
Many discussions about common interests blossom in workplaces. “Consider the things you have in common with your colleagues,” Read says.
“Maybe you share a hobby, support the same sporting team or are passionate about conservation. Sharing a little bit about yourself often leads to feeling understood by others and sparks curiosity in those around you.”
Some workplaces have set up channels or virtual spaces for sharing this kind of information, which helps as a starting point for conversations and as a way of getting to know people better.
Building and growing our relationships with colleagues may feel a little different than what it did before the pandemic – especially as many people move to a mix of remote and on-site work. But by recognising these foundations of healthy workplace connections and building on them, you’re more likely to feel bonded with your team and feel more satisfied at work overall.