From hybrid or fully remote work settings to the introduction of new technologies, the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically shifted how we engage with work. What have these changes meant for how people interact with and relate to each other at work? How can you enhance the quality of relationships in remote/hybrid work arrangements?
Researchers from University of Waterloo’s Work-Learn Institute shared findings about social interaction and relationships in remote and hybrid work contexts. We also heard from Laura Galbraith, director of community impact and Emily Miller, senior talent acquisition consultant at Vidyard about their strategies for establishing strong teams and organizational networks in remote/hybrid work settings.
During the session, we learned to:
- understand how work experiences differ between in-person and remote/hybrid work arrangements, and
- identify strategies to enhance the quality of employee experiences in remote/hybrid work arrangements.
Keep reading to learn more about Work-Learn Institute’s recent research into workplace friendships and what you can do as an employer to foster and grow those relationships.
What do we already know about workplace friendships?
Friendships at work are important
Research continues to illustrate how workplace friendships enhance employee engagement, which can lead to organizational success and higher productivity. In fact, having a best friend at work is associated with a thriving employee experience and numerous business outcomes, including profitability, improved wellness, and retention.
The ways we work together have changed
Workplace friendships require opportunities, time and space to build connections. With the shift to remote and hybrid workplaces, these relationships are being challenged. Gallup's 2022 study indicated that only 17 per cent of participants said they had a “best friend” at work, down from 22 per cent in 2019, and Microsoft's work trends study indicated that 59 per cent of hybrid workers said they had fewer work friendships. Pandemic strain on work/life balance has decreased opportunities and willingness to develop and maintain friendships at work.
What have we learned from our research at the Work-Learn Institute?
What about friendships in work-integrated learning settings?
The Work-Learn Institute surveyed 1000 University of Waterloo co-op students about their social relationships at work and their work mode - of those, about 25 per cent were in-person, 42 per cent fully remote, and 33 per cent hybrid. The data suggests that work mode is associated with workplace friendships and their beneficial outcomes, specifically:
- those who worked fully in person reported stronger work friendships than those who worked fully remote,
- however, the differences between fully in-person and hybrid work modes were not significant, suggesting that even working in person sometimes is enough for work friendships to develop.
Students were asked to report on their work friendships with organizational insiders and fellow students, measuring shared values, shared tasks, and informal socialization, with participants reporting:
- strong shared values with both organizational insiders and fellow students
- more shared tasks with organizational insiders
- more informal socialization with fellow students
What specific factors influence these outcomes?
Our researchers found that working in-person half the time is the optimal amount for developing friendships with both organizational insiders and fellow students. Opportunities for socialization are increased when working fully or partly in-person vs remote work, and this socialization can lead to more friendships.
Further analysis showed that work friendships with organizational insiders led to greater beneficial outcomes than those with fellow students, including: job satisfaction, career development, organizational commitment, and conversion intentions.
What can you do as an employer to foster workplace friendships?
What can organizational leaders do to cultivate and maintain workplace friendships?
Foster friendships between both students and organizational insiders: schedule time together, with built-in time for socialization/networking, and offer informal social interaction activities without being overly prescriptive.
Showcase shared values: provide opportunities to meet, network, connect on social topics of interest.
Design shared tasks, and establish dedicated in-person days for collaborative work.
Insights from University of Waterloo co-op employer, Vidyard
Vidyard is a global organization with a diverse workforce. Like other workplaces, employees have work/life challenges such as personal commitments, differing schedules and time zones. The organizational focus is on maintaining friendships and social connections regardless of work mode and powered by continuous collaborative feedback. This looks like:
- mimicking in-person interactions online, such as live-streaming employee events
- using a structured communication and knowledge flow strategy supported by technology (e.g., Vidyard videos, Slack), which can actually foster more interactions than might happen solely in person
- establishing programs to cultivate friendships, including:
- an on-boarding buddy program, connecting new hires with someone outside of their team and department to provide a trusting connection
- connecting employees through shared hobbies and passions while providing technology support to encourage ongoing communication
- connecting matches to meet over virtual meetings
- having hybrid celebrations (in-person and online)
refining these best practices based on feedback, for example having everyone meet virtually instead of hybrid meetings to avoid feelings of exclusion
Watch the recording
This program has been approved for Continuing Professional Development (CPD) hours under Category A of the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) Log of the Human Resource Professionals Association (HRPA). You may manually log this webinar in your CPD Log.
Meet the speakers
Director of the Work-Learn Institute, University of Waterloo
Anne-Marie leads the only research unit of its kind in the world investigating the practice of co-op and work-integrated learning (WIL) in the development of talent.
Associate Director of the Work-Learn Institute, University of Waterloo
Dave's research focuses on the co-creation of value among students and employers and has been supported by national and international agencies.
Director of Community Impact at Vidyard
Laura Galbraith is the Director of Community Impact at Vidyard; she is responsible for building and implementing Vidyard's social impact programming.
Senior Talent Acquisition Consultant, Vidyard
Emily Miller focuses on recruiting top talent for a variety of departments/roles. She also manages Vidyard's annual campus recruitment programming.