Ask the expert: how can I maintain work friendships, virtually?

With January traditionally the month for new starts, we speak to remote leadership consultant Neil Jurd about how we can invest in our work friendships

Why are work friendships important?
We spend a huge amount of our lives at work, with friendships sustaining us through the challenges and encouraging our creativity. Strong friendships within a team also result in less friction.

Why is it so hard to maintain them virtually?
In the virtual world, we don’t have chance encounters, so we don’t have the sort of regular, informal chance meetings that are usual in the real world. It’s also harder to really connect with people online – something is lost without being able to read body language in the same way you can in a face-to-face meeting.

Why is it worth spending time investing in our work friendships?
Because they energise us. We’ve evolved as tribal animals, and a sense of belonging and community is essential for our mental wellbeing.

What can we do right now to improve our work friendships?
Make a conscious effort to connect and maintain connection as you would do in an office setting by walking around and chatting to people without an agenda. In a virtual team, this means arranging a social chat over a video call. Or making time before a meeting to catch up socially.

Is there anything we should avoid doing?
I think we have to be careful not to talk too much about ourselves. We create good friendships by being willing to listen and trying to understand others.

What’s your advice for being a good work friend to others?
Be yourself and treat others as you would like to be treated. Communicating at a high level, by which I mean talking about emotions and feelings, and moving above the base level of ritual cliché are important. Many work connections never really develop into supportive friendships because people talk at a work level, not a personal level.

Neil Jurd runs a leadership coaching business and is the author of The Leadership Book: A Step-By-Step Guide to Excellent Leadership. He recently received the coveted British Citizen Award, which recognises exceptional people who positively impact their communities.

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