From Distant Colleagues to Close Friends: How to Connect with Coworkers Across the Digital Divide

Working from home sure has its perks, but sometimes, the endless video calls and faceless emails can leave us remote workers feeling like we’re stranded on an island.

Did you know that feeling isolated can actually hinder your performance? Studies show that having best friends at work is crucial to employee engagement and job success, leading to an increase in overall positive outcomes like morale, creativity, and even productivity.

Even though we’re able to chat with colleagues around the world in real-time, it’s still tough to replicate the sense of camaraderie and the casual conversations that happen in traditional workplaces, especially the ones that kickstart those friend-for-life relationships.

Luckily, it’s more than possible to connect with your virtual colleagues and develop meaningful friendships that thrive, both in and out of the workplace. Here are a few tips.

Be the Instigator

Breaking the ice can be pretty awkward at times, but proactivity is everything when it comes to forging new friendships at work. By being the one to establish first contact, you set the tone for open communication and show you’re open to connecting on a deeper level.

For instance, you could reach out to a colleague with a specific and genuine conversation starter in mind. Ask about a recent project they worked on, a weekend adventure they posted about, or comment on their pet’s recent escapades (if they like to publicize that kind of thing). Just try to show a bit of interest in getting to know people beyond the usual work talk.

Shared experiences are goldmines for initiating conversation. If you liked somebody’s comments or questions during a virtual event you both attended, hit them up afterward to let them know they’re appreciated. It’s an easy way to show you’re paying attention and would value spending time with them.

And don’t forget to leverage the tools at your disposal for virtual icebreakers like quizzes, polls, or games. They can be a fun and effortless way to start conversations, lightening the mood and paving the way for more personal interactions.

Talk More; Email Less

Building true friendships is only possible by talking to, seeing, and spending quality time with people. When working from home, this means using video calls and voice chat more than text-based communication.

Set an example for your colleagues by using video conferencing as much as possible. If others follow your lead, it will eventually become part of the employee culture (if it isn’t already).

Also, try to find ways to arrange a video chat or voice call with people in other departments if they are open to it. People with different perspectives and experiences of the company are still organized around the same shared mission as you, at least at work, so you already have something to talk about.

And who knows? Maybe you’ll discover that Gordon in HR is also into the same niche hobbies as you.

Team Up!

If you’re already working somewhere, you know what it’s like to start working from home at a new company. Those early days can feel isolating and challenging, especially when going through constant training and onboarding processes.

A great way to solve this (and plant the seeds of new friendships) is to team up with new colleagues in those early days, offering your experience and mentorship to those who need it most. By sharing advice on the stuff that the company might not mention, like unwritten rules and efficiency tips, you’ll get to spend time with people and provide value that they certainly won’t forget.

Doesn’t that sound like the beginning of a beautiful friendship?

Keep Building Bridges

Maintaining friendships at work requires consistent effort and genuine interest in the well-being of others, so be sure to nurture them to ensure they grow and flourish over time.

Trust is the foundation of any strong friendship. The best way to earn that trust is to respect people’s privacy, stick to your commitments, and be that person people can depend on.

But trust alone is not enough; communication is equally vital. Regular check-ins, whether through a quick message, a call, or a lunch date, show your friends that you care and value the relationship beyond work tasks.

Another critical aspect is to support your colleagues both in their professional and personal milestones. Celebrate their successes, offer a listening ear during challenging times, and provide constructive feedback when needed—while respecting boundaries, of course.

Lastly, don’t pass up the chance to be inclusive. Try to extend your friendships and networking circles by introducing colleagues to each other, organizing online group activities, and encouraging others to develop a virtual environment where everyone feels welcome.

Now, go out there and break the ice with somebody new! It is Valentine’s Day, after all.