Why You Should Invest More Time Into Work Friendships

Why You Should Invest More Time Into Work Friendships


We don’t always think of the workplace as a place to go for meaningful friendships. But as it turns out, fostering strong relationships with your coworkers is not only linked to better business outcomes like productivity and employee retention, but can also lead to more fulfillment and belonging both at work and beyond.

Here are insights on work friendships from Kat Vellos, an experience designer, connection coach, and author of We Should Get Together: The Secret to Cultivating Better Friendships. Listen to the full episode on the Creative Confidence Podcast to hear Kat talk about why workplace friendships are important, what questions to ask to help deepen connections with coworkers, and how to think about fostering connection in a hybrid work environment.


Listen on Spotify or Apple Podcasts 


Why Work Friends Are Important

Benefits of Healthy Work Friendships

2 Tips for Making Friends at Work

How to Have Better Conversations

Staying Connected With Remote Work

The Business Case for Connection

Collaborating With a Team


Why Work Friends Are Important

We use the word “friend” to describe so many of our platonic connections—acquaintances, neighbors, coworkers, and so on. In reality, there’s a wide spectrum of connection that we have in the workplace, from strangers to work spouses. But regardless of whether you’re going to work to make friends, Kat reminds us that a healthy colleagueship can be extremely beneficial because we spend a lot of time with coworkers.

According to surveys, the amount of time we spend with friends outside of work peaks at around 18 years old, then goes downhill and flattens out from our mid-30s until our 80s. Time spent with coworkers, on the other hand, steadily rises from 15 to about 25, then stays high until it drops as people start to retire in their 50s and 60s. That means that for much of our lives, we spend more time with our coworkers than with our friends.

As a result, there’s a real opportunity for connection with the people that we naturally spend a lot of time with. Kat says that a healthy colleagueship with coworkers has many of the same qualities and traits as those in a healthy friendship.

Coffee cup with the label “Will you be my: acquaintance, colleague, buddy, actual friend, bff.

Image source: We Should Get Together


Benefits of Healthy Work Friendships

Friends help us grow and improve through honest feedback and advice. They keep us accountable and aren’t afraid to call us out, but also provide us with a space to be safe and vulnerable.

The benefits of healthy platonic relationships have so many impacts on our health and wellbeing, and Kat notes that healthy friendships and healthy colleagueships share many of the same characteristics. Some key benefits include:

  • Trust
  • Mutuality and two-way support
  • Shared values and shared goals
  • Collectivism and teamwork
  • Encouragement and care
  • Appreciation and gratitude
  • Humor and laughter


Learn how to collaborate with work friends, colleagues, and teams in our online course Cultivating Creative Collaboration.


2 Tips for Making Friends at Work

While there’s no secret formula for making friends at work, there are tips that Kat recommends:

  1. Make it recurring: Recurring activities are one of the best ways to build connection and friendship. Find someone you enjoy talking to, and set a regular time when you can connect with them in a meaningful way. If their schedules are busy, you can agree on a lower effort way to catch up, such as getting coffee together or doing a casual walk once a month.
  2. Be experimental: Go beyond your normal circles, and reach out to someone who you don't regularly work with. It could be someone who's in another department that you temporarily collaborated with. This gives a sense of a larger web of connection within your company, and you’re less likely to talk about the project you're both working on.
Two people walking outside. One person says “This was fun! Wanna do it again next month?” The other person says, “How about next week?”

Image source: We Should Get Together


How to Have Better Conversations

Every conversation is a chance to feel happier and closer, or tired and bored. Instead of defaulting to the same social scripts of “How's the weather? Where are you from? What's new?”, Kat suggests embracing opportunities to approach conversations more bravely. She reminds us that a question is an invitation, and a conversation is an energetic space where we choose to spend time. It can be adventurous, playful, or heartfelt.

In a workplace context, if you’re leading a meeting, start with a warm-up. You can either verbally say or put in the chat, “Hey, we're going to warm up with a different question today.” One of her favorite strategies when talking to a work friend is to say, “I'm taking a new approach to questions this week. Do you want to try it with me?” Think of a few questions that you want to try out. Start with lighter, more open-ended questions, such as:

  • What are three songs you loved as a teenager and why?
  • What's something delicious you ate recently?
  • What are three tabs open on your computer that show what’s been on your mind?

Generally, it’s important to have a certain depth of trust and closeness in the friendship before asking a deeper question. Kat says it’s also helpful to work up in levels, starting with the lighter questions first. If you feel like the other person is open to a personal question, ask them, “Can I ask you a question that's a little bit personal?” Then, they can decide whether they would like to respond. Some examples of deeper questions from her conversation tools are:

  • What's the unresolved conundrum that you keep going back to in your mind?
  • Can you tell me about a time you took a risk and it worked out well, or a time you took a risk and it didn't work out well?


“While some people go to work to make friends and some don’t, a healthy colleagueship can help give the same benefits and similar qualities to a healthy friendship.”
Kat Vellos 


Staying Connected with Remote Work

Kat notes that when some people are remote and others are in person, those who are remote are bound to feel more left out. There's an inconsistent field of experience with the connection and type of interaction that they get. For example, if an organization is only doing the transactional interactions asynchronously and saving special conversations for face-to-face, it leads to different groups having different access and different levels of belonging.

Another thing that happens with hybrid and remote work is that because the opportunity for spontaneous connection and interaction isn't going to happen in the hallway, you have to actually make time for it. It’s easy for work to feel more transactional and impersonal when there aren’t those same moments of bonding with coworkers. Kat suggests making space to chat and connect personally with the people on your team, whether it’s at the beginning of meetings or on Slack.

An island called “The adulthood friendship desert” with different regions: text town, busy bayou, relation river, meetup mountains, ghosted gorge, friend breakup beach, Instagram isle, awkward atoll, bay of brunch, sea of social media, and loneliness lagoon.

Image source: We Should Get Together


The Business Case for Connection

When you help yourself and your colleagues feel a stronger sense of belonging at work, you are demonstrably and financially supporting your company. Kat points out that research shows that when people feel lonely at work, they're twice as likely to quit and twice as likely to get poached by another company. And when organizations re-fill a role that someone has left, it typically costs between 50% to 200% of their salary to fill that role.

If you’re helping others feel connected at work, you’re saving your company money and supporting efficiency because of all of the institutional memory, belonging, and connection that comes with being there for a long time. Kat wants you to remember that spending the time and money on a 20-minute coffee with a work friend every week saves exponentially more than it would cost if one or both of you left because you didn't feel a sense of connection.


Collaborating with a Team

In the workplace, you’ll need to collaborate with all kinds of people—from your work friends to your manager. In our online course Cultivating Creative Collaboration, we teach you how to work with others to set team agreements, give constructive feedback, and create a culture of belonging.


“Healthy friendships and healthy colleagueships have many of the same qualities. Trust, laughter, appreciation, teamwork, and so much more.”
Kat Vellos


About the Speaker

Kat Vellos
Speaker | Facilitator | Experience Designer

Kat Vellos (she/her) is a speaker, experience designer, and connection coach who helps others tap into the meaningful connection they crave in their personal and professional lives. She's the author of "We Should Get Together: The Secret to Cultivating Better Friendships". Vellos has been a celebrated speaker at TEDx, San Francisco Design Week, Lesbians Who Tech, Rosenfeld Media’s DesignOps Summit, General Assembly, Design for America, Social Good Tech Week, Impact Hub, The Manuscript Academy and many more in addition to podcasts like The Good Life Project, The Design of Business, Beautiful Thinkers, and Still Becoming. Her writing and interviews have appeared in The New York Times, Fast Company, Forbes, Communication Arts, Thrive Global, Yahoo Lifestyle, Design Feast, AIGA blog, Holiday Matinee, and more. Visit her website and learn more about her book We Should Get Together.


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