We are living in a new world of work. In some ways, it may be a welcome break—no more stressful commutes, office chatter interrupting your focus, or forced conversations around the water cooler. But any new reality brings with it novel annoyances: endless conference calls, tech challenges, and less-than-ideal home working conditions. It’s only natural to take these frustrations out on your coworkers. This, combined with the added challenges of virtual (mis)communication and feeling socially disconnected, is more than enough to weaken work bonds.
Connection is crucial to your professional, emotional, and mental wellbeing, however. The stronger our bonds, the more motivated and supported we feel at work; which is something we need now more than ever. With no clear date when life will return to normal, here are four ways to stay connected to—and compassionate toward—your co-workers.
1. Share your context.
“When you’re working with someone face to face, you get a lot of data about how they feel and what they think by their body language, facial expression, and tone of voice,” explains Amy Gallo, author of The HBR Guide to Dealing with Conflict. “You get a little of that on a video call, but it’s a lot less rich than we’re used to,” and that lack of input causes us to fill in the blanks in ways that support our own point of view. Bridge that gap by creating context.
How to do it: For coworkers that you interact with regularly, give each other a virtual tour of your workspace and discuss other factors that are affecting your work life—if you have kids whose distance learning you now need to oversee, for example, or if a loved one is on the front lines or even ill. According to Shasta Nelson, relationship speaker and author of the upcoming book, “The Business of Friendship: Making the Most of the Relationships Where We Spend Most of Our Time,” “Talking about our feelings and life circumstances, seeing glimpses into each other’s lives through video conferencing, and banding together in a crisis helps create a new team DNA.”
2. Open up lines of informal communication.
We’re suffering from a lack of consistent interaction. You may not have thought much about those watercooler conversations or brief hellos as you passed one another in the halls, but they play an important role in coworker relationships, explains Nelson. “Consistent interaction is one of the biggest factors in determining who we will bond with, which is why our workplaces are still the number one places adults make friends.” Without proximity, it’s a lot harder to have to maintain those relationships. It is possible to do, however, with a little creativity.
How to do it: Invite co-workers into a group chat to share casual comments, uplifting media, workout videos, recipes, or funny memes; or take a virtual break with someone over Zoom where you share a cup of coffee and chat. It’s good for bonding and for fighting isolation. Research has found that these types of casual interactions significantly reduce conflict, even in teams working remotely.
3. Express appreciation.
Expressing appreciation may be “one of the most important things we can do to help people feel seen and valued,” Nelson says. Studies show that this practice increases feelings of positivity for both the thanker and thankee. And the more detailed you can be, the better.
How to do it: “Instead of just saying, ‘I appreciate you getting this report to me,’ you might say, ‘With all the limited bandwidth we all feel these days, it means even more to me that you thought through this report so well, thank you.’” The more stressed we are, the more support we need. Infusing gratitude and positivity can go a long way in setting off what’s termed the “upward spiral of positivity,” and you never know who especially needs to hear a “thank you” for their efforts today.
4. Reframe, reframe, reframe.
The same way that your coworkers are missing out on context, remember that you are missing out on theirs, too. Build your ability to reframe the things that frustrate you by filling in gaps with the benefit of the doubt.
How to do it: Instead of getting angry that a coworker’s work is late, for example, or that she’s five minutes late to a meeting, think: “She’s focused on her kids and has a lot to manage.” Gallo suggests broadening your reframe to include the big picture. Remind yourself, for example, “We’re all working under less than ideal circumstances, and we’re all doing the best we can.” And that includes you, too.