Remote work can make us feel disconnected, which can hurt productivity and wellbeing. So how can you build work friendships, remotely?

Working from home, although it can be convenient, poses its challenges–namely, it leads to a lack of in-person connection across teams, departments, and individuals. Unfortunately, this lack of consistent face-to-face contact amongst colleagues increases a sense of loneliness and isolation, and decreases productivity in the workplace. 

According to Forbes, about 25% of Americans experience loneliness when they work remotely. This isolation is compounded by a lack of social connection with colleagues outside of work. When left unchecked, loneliness at work can lead to other mental health concerns including depression and anxiety. 

Why is it so hard to build work friendships remotely?

Working in-person allows for organic conversations to occur. We might be forced to bump shoulders with our coworkers in the breakroom, share a workspace with our manager or boss, or interact with different departments during conference room meetings.

When working remotely, we don’t often get that chance to occupy the same physical spaces as our colleagues. This lack of in-person contact unfortunately can detract from our sense of community in the workplace.

What’s missing from remote work friendships?

  • Opportunities to socialize organically (time in the break room, running into each other on the commute)
  • Structured social contact (meetings, lunches, conferences, office parties)
  • Chances to see and appreciate each other in action
  • Body language cues

What can I do to build relationships with remote coworkers?

Building relationships with our remote coworkers poses an obvious challenge, but it doesn’t have to be impossible. By taking initiative to reach out to our colleagues and being creative about ways to connect with each other, we can intentionally foster stronger work relationships regardless of our physical distance.

Host virtual game and movie nights 

Never underestimate the importance of play! If most of your remote contact is about serious work matters, it can feel easier to build friendships in a context of lighthearted connection.

Virtual game and movie nights are a great idea, because they allow people to have fun together and bond in a low-stakes environment. These kinds of events can also help relieve stress, which may allow you to be more social and at-ease with your remote coworkers.

Even if your workplace hasn’t organized remote events like this, it’s easy to take it upon yourself with the help of social media or by creating a text chain with some of your colleagues. Most streaming services have “watch party” options, and there are lots of ways to play social board games remotely.

Form workplace groups 

If given the opportunity, advocate for a workplace affinity group that meets regularly–in a virtual space. Examples might include an affinity group for people of color, women in leadership, or working parents.

Workplace groups can help you connect with colleagues based on similar identities and experiences (and can feel especially helpful when those experiences impact your professional life).

Set up virtual check-ins

If you’d like to get closer to your remote coworkers, consider setting up regular virtual check-ins, outside of work hours. You might suggest a weekly call while drinking your coffee in the morning. Alternatively, many remote coworkers enjoy a “virtual happy hour” on Zoom after the workday is done.

Especially if you manage or supervise a team at work, consider hosting regular office hours when you’ll be available to talk about matters unrelated to work. This creates opportunities for employees to communicate any personal concerns that might impact their work, but moreover, creates regular chances to bond in a low-pressure way. 

Tools for connecting with remote coworkers

Humans haven’t evolved to connect from a distance, so you might need a little support to make things work. As you plan ways to connect, you may find some of the following tools helpful:

  • Scheduling tools like when2meet and Calendly offer free options for finding the best meeting time, whether you’re coordinating with one other person or many.
  • Streaming services, such as Netflix, offer “watch party” modes, where you can chat with coworkers while watching a show or movie at the exact same time.
  • Apps like Houseparty, Discord, or Snapchat allow you to socialize remotely in a casual way, without scheduling.

Concluding remarks 

If we want to successfully create lasting connections with our colleagues and employees, we have to be proactive in reaching out to them and forming bonds based on similar interests and identities. 

We spend many years of our lives at work; building and maintaining genuine relationships with the people that we work with can drastically improve the quality of our lives.