Work Friends. I categorize most of my friends by the chapter of my life in which we met or came into each other’s orbits: childhood, college, camp, and of course work. Work has further chapters based on where I was and the stage of life I was at. Paramount were my first work friends: my first job in marketing, where I bought my first home, got married, and had my first child. It was also where I had my greatest professional growth, witnessed good and bad leadership, and had a damn lot of fun.
Knowing those friends for over 30 years, they are family. We have grown up together and the work stories are our collective lore. [Side note: my current intern is the daughter of one of my first Paramount interns. Second-generation interns make me feel very … ‘mature’.]
Paramount was followed by Planet Hollywood, AimTV, NetZero, Ameriquest, The Search Agency and CallFire. Each entry on my LinkedIn profile comes with friends with whom I have marked the passage of time. There are happy and challenging memories, of milestone events, and professional wins and losses. I know that those friends see me, know who I am, and what I am capable of as both co-worker and friend. When I interact with any of my work friends, I am immediately transported to a place in my career, my role, and my professional development.
We are living in an interesting time and I worry for today’s workforce, most remote or at best, hybrid. How will they find their work friends? The friends who see the best in you, challenge you to do your best, celebrate your wins, and offer perspective when you make a mistake. How will today’s employees find the friends that will support them throughout their career?
When I think about my ‘work’ friends, work is often where we met and where the friendships flourished. As I have written about previously, the friendships may be crossing the line for some, where they want to keep work and friendships separate, but I believe that Life Happens at Work. If I am going to give my all for 8-10 hours a day, work side-by-side with people, it is important for me to have a friendship with most if not all of those co-workers.
Work friendships aren’t just important for the personal interactions, but for the work itself. A recent NY Times article The Magic of Your First Work Friends, talks about your first work friends. For me, it wasn’t just my first work friends, but friendships throughout my career that have endured. I have worked multiple times with and for the same people (good lesson: don’t burn bridges, it is a small world and your paths will cross again). I have been fortunate to hire and promote exceptional people who I would consider friends and have had the chance to work for under multiple circumstances. Friendships that began at work have provided the equity of drawing from the relationship when I need support, perspective, or a receptive ear.
What is it about work friends? In my experience, they are sounding boards and supporters, sponsors and cheerleaders. Work friends understand the internal politics and players, and therefore can offer sound advice and guidance with an insider’s knowledge. You celebrate together and win or lose business together. Working on common goals and KPIs, you are part of a team or squad, aligned on what success looks like. I imagine it is similar to a sports team or military troop – singularly focused on an end goal. In this way, work friends build trust and the relationships drive loyalty and comradery.
As we re-imagine the workplace, my hope is that more employees look to return to offices to sit side-by-side, with purpose, to collaborate and bond. We are limited in working virtually and over technology. Not everyone shows up well in a Zoom box or in written communications. Meeting IRL (in real life) allows us to read body language, move around, laugh, and tap into the equity of truly knowing this person with whom we have the privilege to work. To forge a relationship that transcends task-driven agendas.
If you have an opportunity to meet in-person at an office or co-working space, seize the opportunity.
If you go into an office, make it a purpose-driven presence and invite others to join you; don’t just change your Zoom location.
Invite others to come to the office as well, sit together, collaborate, ideate, step back from the day-to-day, or do some strategic planning.
Add in a social element to go beyond parallel work. Invest in your relationship.
If you work fully remote and can show up in person for a business pitch, conference or client meeting, take advantage of this unique chance to see your co-workers in action. Plan time before or after to maximize the benefit of being together. Invest in your work friendship.
What can you expect in return? More loyalty, a better understanding of who you are as people, a closer bond with your colleagues. And that bond shows up in the work itself.