Managers are excited to get employees back in the office a few days a week to work. It’s important that some of that office time be used for socialization, too.
I’ve written in the past about the importance of building internal relationships at work (Don't Ignore Your Internal Network). This becomes even more important for remote and hybrid teams.
There are tools like donut and the Slack plugin S’Up to facilitate relationship building with co-workers by randomly assigning you someone to meet. (Disclaimer: S'Up was created by my NY CTO Club colleague Daniel (dB.) Doubrovkine; I have no financial incentive in recommending his very useful tool.) Both tools work online and offline; if remote, you set up a video call, if local, you can go out and grab a coffee (and donut). I highly recommend this type of tool for all large offices, even if you’re together five days a week.
When in the office it’s important to also work on those relationships and build that internal network. For millennia humans have developed relationships in person; it’s how we’re wired. Digital communications work, but in person builds stronger connections. (I would hypothesize, but have no supporting evidence, that is because when we sat in tribes, we trusted the people near us to not steal our food or kill us. Those further away were potential threats. Consequently, we’ve been wired to associate physical proximity with trust and kinship.)
When in the office make sure to connect with others both individually and as a group. Sit near each other, meet, talk, and interact. I would especially encourage people to take coffee breaks and eat lunch together.
there will be a tension when doing this in the office.
It’s important to note that there will be a tension when doing this in the office. For managers remote work is hard, not because they don’t trust that you’re working, but because they can’t see how you work and with whom. That’s an important part of how they evaluate you. I’m not suggesting that you’re under a microscope or that the old “face time in the office” is what really matters. It’s merely that when remote, managers mostly see the end result, whereas in the office they can see how you work and that is a key piece of management. With less time in the office, the “observation time” by your manager becomes much more important.
However, for many people part of relationship building is talking about non-work activities. Managers will naturally want you to be more focused on work while together in the office. It’s important that the manager, and the entire team, recognize that some socialization during the limited time in the office matters, too. By socialization I don’t mean a weekly happy hour, but the watercooler conversations that are part of office culture.
share this article with your whole team so that everyone recognizes the other side’s needs
For this reason, I would encourage you to share this article with your whole team so that everyone recognizes the other side’s needs: work time when management is present and socialization time when in the office. It’s not 50/50; not even close to that. The majority of the time should be working. But the less time in the office, the more important the socialization time. If you’re in the office three days a week, it may not be far off from the ratio of when you were in five days a week. If you’re in only three days a month, socialization may be a significant part of it. Consequently, a company might even consider doing four days a month instead of three, just to build in socialization time as part of those four days, resulting in three days of “work time.”
As with most advice, your mileage will vary. Teams that have been together for a while, who are well structured, and / or which have clearly defined tasks will require less socialization. Teams which have less historical time together, are more loosely structured, or more dynamic in the range of work, will likely need more socialization time together.
As we return to hybrid offices, it’s important to remember we need to strike a balance. Time working together is obviously what we’re there for. However, building relationships at work is important for the long-term health and culture of an organization, and that requires time for socialization both in and out of the office.
It’s critical to learn about corporate culture before you accept a job offer but it can be awkward to raise such questions. Learn what to ask and how to ask it to avoid landing yourself in a bad situation.