Your friends from the of­fice are now your friends at the of­fice

Bloomberg Businessweek (Asia) - - Etc. - By Re­becca Green­field

If your of­fice didn’t have a hol­i­day party this year, you are way not alone. In 1998 more than 80 per­cent of com­pa­nies sur­veyed by the So­ci­ety for Hu­man Re­source Man­age­ment had end-of-year cel­e­bra­tions. This year only 65 per­cent of com­pa­nies threw a party. Fern Diaz, now a se­nior man­ager at ad agency Huge, doesn’t miss them. “You’re be­ing forced to hang out with the peo­ple you work with, be­cause you’re com­ply­ing with some com­pany cul­ture-build­ing,” she says.

To some, this might seem like yet an­other in­di­ca­tion that the of­fice is turn­ing into an in­creas­ingly an­ti­so­cial place. Adam Grant, a man­age­ment pro­fes­sor at the Whar­ton School, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times in Septem­ber claim­ing the work­place has be­come a mostly trans­ac­tional en­vi­ron­ment, where re­la­tion­ships don’t ex­tend be­yond of­fice walls. One 2011 study he cited found that 32 per­cent of re­spon­dents in the U.S. said they in­vited col­leagues to their homes, vs. 66 per­cent of Poles and 71 per­cent of In­di­ans. Only 6 per­cent of Amer­i­cans in the study re­ported go­ing on va­ca­tion with their co-work­ers.

But look­ing to or­ga­nized events and outof-the-of­fice ac­tiv­i­ties misses a big­ger trend: Most co-worker so­cial­iz­ing now hap­pens at the of­fice. Our work­ing re­la­tion­ships are much more in­ti­mate: Walls have lit­er­ally come down, as open of­fice plans have done away with cubes. Work­ers are in con­stant com­mu­ni­ca­tion via in­stant mes­sag­ing and e-mail.

Diaz con­sid­ers half of her 500 co-work­ers her friends. Her idea of fun with col­leagues is an in-of­fice Se­rial dis­cus­sion group or ca­sual desk-side drinks, not a work-spon­sored party or a staged din­ner. “Huge doesn’t pay for the bour­bon. We just buy it and drink it at 5 p.m. on a Tues­day,” she says. “That’s how I’ve made a lot of friends.”

Work it­self is so­cial. Ev­ery day, al­most 2 mil­lion peo­ple log on to Slack, one of a hand­ful of on­line com­mu­ni­ca­tion tools de­signed for the of­fice. Peo­ple use chat rooms as a dig­i­tal wa­ter cooler as much as a place to get work done, so much so that many com­pa­nies have des­ig­nated rooms for non­work con­ver­sa­tions. One of the most beloved fea­tures on Slack is the GIF gen­er­a­tor, of­ten used to add levity to a work chat.

Just be­cause re­la­tion­ships are on­line doesn’t mean they should mat­ter less. In a 2011 study, re­searchers from the Univer­sity of Rochester had strangers com­mu­ni­cate with one an­other on­line and found that the more time some­one spent chat­ting with some­one, the more they re­ported lik­ing that per­son. Tanya Ghahre­mani and Kadeen Grif­fiths, two ed­i­tors with a “weirdly close” friend­ship at the blog Bus­tle, formed their re­la­tion­ship over in­stant mes­sages. Now “we’re al­ways in com­mu­ni­ca­tion over e-mail, text mes­sage, car­rier pi­geon,” Ghahre­mani says.

Or­ga­ni­za­tions have an in­ter­est in pro­mot­ing work friend­ships, be­cause they’re good for busi­ness. Friends mo­ti­vate each other with so­cial pres­sure; not per­form­ing means let­ting a friend, not just a col­league, down. Hav­ing best friends at work is one of the strong­est pre­dic­tors of a solid team per­for­mance, ac­cord­ing to Gallup’s an­nual en­gage­ment sur­vey.

Yet the harder of­fices try to make work­ers so­cial­ize, the more it back­fires. “You can’t force friend­ships,” says Jim Harter, the chief sci­en­tist at Gallup. The best thing for em­ploy­ers to do is let employees make their own fun. That de­scribes the en­vi­ron­ment at Web Tal­ent Mar­ket­ing, in Lan­caster, Pa., where Anna Horn works. “We will have a Cinco de Mayo party in the mid­dle of the day,” says Horn, who met her best friends at work. “We’re all just hang­ing out and hav­ing margs. My boss is cool with that.” <BW>


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