Do You Have a Best Friend at Work?

Why relationships matter, now, more than ever

By Morag Barrett

I had socially distant cocktails and snacks with Eric and Ruby earlier this week. It wasn't planned, it was spontaneous, we kept the required separation and it was magical. #UnicornMagic 

Before, during, and after I realized how much I, and they, needed that time together. How much I miss the 3-dimensional experience of not just colleagues, but two people who are my best friends, at work and at play. 

Who's Your (Best) Friend?

Best Friends at work are the ones who are with you, on high days and low days. They're the peeps we turn to, the peeps who help ensure we all make it through together, and are better for it. And in the case of Eric and Ruby they are the full on IMAX experience. 

The Gallup Organization includes a specific question about whether or not you have a best friend at work as part of their 12 questions that assess employee engagement - why? because high engagement has a direct impact on an organization's success. Tom Rath, author of Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without, says that “people who have a “best friend” at work are seven times more likely to be engaged in their work. They may have fewer accidents, they have more engaged customers and are more likely to innovate and share new ideas”.
“People who have a “best friend” at work are seven times more likely to be engaged in their work. They may have fewer accidents, they have more engaged customers and are more likely to innovate and share new ideas”. Tom Rath

Relationships Matter

2020 has given us all a Covid-Curveball when it comes to our relationships at work. Earlier this year, B.C. (Before Covid), when most of us were co-located, we could 'just grab lunch' or bump into each other in the breakroom and relationships were maintained and nurtured. However A.D. (After Distancing) the reality of working from home means those chance encounters, or even planned lunches, or drinks after work don't happen, can't happen.

Our 2-dimensional interactions aren't the same as the full on 3-D experience, they've been replaced by transactional and endless Zoom calls. It seems that the only time we connect is when we need something, when we're checking on the progress of our projects, the task at hand. We've forgotten to check in on the progress of our people, our relationships, our friendships at work, and as a result relationships are starting to fray. This has a knock-on effect for collective productivity, creativity, and a decline in the sense of team.

Finding a way that enables everyone, professionally and personally, to nurture their relationships, to repair the cracks and misunderstandings before they become debilitating is a key leadership and organizational imperative right now, if companies and their people are to survive these times. Just how to do that can be complicated, which is why leaders and teams are turning to SkyeTeam for help in this work. We bring specific, immediate ways to address and simplify these issues.

Check Your Schedule

Don't believe me? Think about it. You spend hours at your desk each day. Do you have someone that you can rely on? To vent at and know it will go no further? To share the successes with? Who listens to your concerns and challenges and then helps you to find your answers and next steps? Who acts as a sounding board for your ideas? Who will take you to one side and give you the tough feedback designed to improve your success?

Hurrah if you do, and if you are unsure, then we should talk. And even if you are a "yes I have a Best Friend at Work (or did in January)," I challenge you to look at your schedule, at the meetings you've attended in the last two weeks - Go on. Take a look. This article will still be here when you come back - What do you notice? When was the last time you spoke with your Ally, your Best Friend? And "during that project retrospective" or "I sent them a text" doesn't count. When was the last time you called simply to see HOW they were doing, not WHAT they were doing?

When was the last time you called simply to see HOW they were doing, not WHAT they were doing?

Look behind the mask

Like most of us, the to-do list hamster wheel of never ending zoom business meetings has taken hold. Many of us (by all accounts) are working an average of an extra three hours a day since moving to a work-from-home environment. Crazy. And yet not, work is an anchor point for many of us. The 'normality' of work helps us to navigate the 'unnormal' of Covid.

But focus on work at your peril. We need to prioritize our human connections and relationships, we need to schedule time to nurture our professional (and personal) relationships so that we can stay connected at a time when many feel disconnected.

This was brought home to me recently during an all employee event that I facilitated (virtually). I'm not exaggerating when I say that as the Zoom room opened, the 300 employees literally came bounding in, there were calls to each other "Hey there haven't seen you in ages!", "How's the dog?", "Has John fixed the leak yet?", there were in-jokes, out-jokes and a level of banter I have not seen in any other virtual events. Cameras were up. Everyone was full on, engaged, no multitasking. The energy and enthusiasm was palpable. 

One of my first questions to the group was "What emotions have you (or your 'friends') experienced at work in the last 6 weeks?" The results were eye-opening (as the CEO described it to me afterwards). In fact, the results are below. What do you notice about the emotions listed?

word cloud listing emotions


After the event I received numerous emails and LinkedIn messages from participants who were grateful to be able to share (anonymously) what a wide range of emotions they were living every day, and how grateful they were to realize they weren't alone. 

I won't go into the full debrief/ah-ha here but suffice it to say, the initial bounce, excitement etc. masked an underlying simmering pot of emotions that left unchecked will eventually boil over, and likely result in an undesirable impact to relationships and results, internally and externally.

In my book Cultivate. The Power of Winning Relationships and the associated workshops my team and I have developed, we explore the concept of Ally Relationships, aka Best Friend at Work. Ally relationships don’t happen by accident. Best Friends at work don't happen by chance.

The good news is that you don't have to live in each others pockets (and with social distancing we can't) and that by being proactive, by checking in, showing we care, listening, letting others know that they aren't alone, that the stress and anxiety they are feeling we all feel at different times, and in doing so I guarantee you can help reduce the pressure while strengthening that relationship.

Nurture Your Ally Relationships

Here are three tips to help ensure that you are nurturing and maintaining the relationships that matter to you.
  • Think of the person who you miss hanging out with at work. Your BFF. Call them, text them, slack them and TELL THEM. Share what you miss, make the explicit implicit and make their day.
  • Schedule time to connect with the whole human in your meetings. Before you jump into the project deliverables spend a few moments sharing and asking about others Ripples and Joys (things that have made them happy, impact and results they have had with others).
  • Ask. Take a relationship pulse check, 3 questions - what's working, what's not, and what's one thing you can do to help your colleague - and I promise you will start to see an immediate impact on the health and strength of your relationships at work.

Despite what we may have been told in the past, business is personal and relationships do matter. We can't be successful in business, or life, unless we have winning relationships around us. Take the time to connect with others, that's how you create relationships that can weather any storm.

To my best friends, in and out of work, and especially to Eric and Ruby, I love you both. I am your Ally.

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