After a year of working from home I think we have all adapted to the nuances of remote work- waking up five minutes before a morning call, telling co-workers they are on mute, wearing pajamas instead of jeans, and “commuting” only from our bed to our desk. While remote work has made our lifestyles easier in many ways, there are a few elements that are difficult to replicate in a virtual setting: friendships.
From as early as I can remember, my life milestones, which included starting middle school, high school, and college all came equipped with structured opportunities to meet and bond with peers sharing these experiences. I relied on orientations, classes, and clubs to make connections and form lasting friendships. However, unlike starting high school or college, the post-grad world lacks a common structure of ways to meet peers and co-workers of our own age groups and interests. Sadly, this time around, we are not given a full-force orientation week focused on majors, hometowns, or interests. And to add to our misfortune, we also have to form these friendships virtually.
When I first accepted my job offer back in October 2019, I was fully aware I would be the only new grad on my team, but that wasn’t an issue to me. I imagined the friendships with other new grads would naturally form from lunches in the cafeteria, work happy hours, and holiday parties. I pictured I would bump into another new grad in the elevator, chat about the “glory days” of college and schedule a follow-up coffee chat or lunch. I was excited to be in a new environment filled with growth, new faces, and spontaneous interactions.
Unfortunately, once the pandemic hit, authentic interactions in the office were replaced with a flurry of Zoom calls. Virtual meetings are filled with routine small talk about the weather and general weekend plans, and once enough people have joined, it’s time to get going with the call. Through some trials and tribulations, I’ve learned working from home is a balancing act of impressing your teammates with your work ethic, while also trying to form meaningful connections that expand beyond the intricacies of an excel formula. However, navigating that balance takes effort, intention, and motivation; all of which I was lacking at my six month mark. But once I took a step back and analyzed the root of my Zoom fatigue (lack of peer to peer interaction), I came to a few solutions which are broken out below.
Ideas for making connections with coworkers and team members:
Create your own orientation experience (leverage Slack, LinkedIn, internal work portals)
- Identify other new grads or employees in similar roles, or roles you are interested in. You can do this by searching within your slack channels, internal employee portal, or if there’s a larger company meeting – scroll through the attendee list to see if there are any new grads.
- Reach out with intention and set up recurring meetings to build a structured cadence and once you all feel comfortable initiate a covid-safe outdoor hangout. It can seem awkward just messaging someone out of the blue, but imagine if the scenario was flipped. I think we would all be thrilled to take a few minutes away from our spreadsheets, to respond and connect with others on a more personal level.
- Structure your conversations about topics other than work (outside passions, interests, hobbies). I’m sure we are all used to networking calls, but keep in mind you already have this job, so treat this conversation as if you’re making a new friend.
These methods are exactly how I’ve been able to expand my work social circle. This past quarter, I attended an event put on by the Women’s Network (one of our Employee Resource Groups), and I leveraged the method of scrolling through the zoom attendee list and reading through the comments to find something I related to. Soon enough, I saw that someone had left a comment about their favorite book and how it related to the event topic. I had read that book, so I took a closer look at her profile and I noticed her profile photo was a graduation photo – bingo! I immediately slacked her after the event, and mentioned all of the similarities I noted (attending the event, the book, and being new grads). From there we set up a zoom call to get to know each other more and soon enough our conversations expanded beyond our locations, interests, and work organization.
Form authentic relationships internally
- Finding time within your team’s calendar to schedule a personal 1-1, can be difficult. Start off by putting in extra effort to connect or get more personal through slack or your team’s messages.
- Congratulate team members after a great presentation, meeting, or a creative idea they shared. Or, if you’ve been collaborating with a team member, ping them on Friday to thank them for their help. This is a great way to initiate a conversation about their weekend plans and learn more about their hobbies & interests.
- Once you identify more of their interests, I start the week off by messaging them a cool article or podcast that relates to any of the interests they have shared with me.
- After you’ve established a virtual camaraderie with your manager and team members, the next step could be to propose a covid friendly in-person meetup.
- Before just sending this out as a slack, I recommend creating a meetup structure to share with your manager for their approval. Identify the purpose of the meet up (to build team morale/spirit, help with zoom fatigue, etc.). Suggest a timeline for the in-person meetup (upcoming busy season, big project, or a larger team initiative).
- Create a survey to send out to your team to assess interest/comfort level regarding a potential team meet up.
- If the majority are in favor, find activities based on general team comfort level activities (grab to-go lunches at a park, outdoor dining, a sporting outing).
- Once you have outlined your plan, share this with your manager for their thoughts and approvals. Once approved (hopefully) then you can ask to take the lead on planning!
Ideas for making connections with new grads outside of your company:
- Leverage the hashtag #newgrad #workfromhome on LinkedIn to identify individuals in a similar boat as you. To approach it from a non work-centric focus, search hashtags of interests (#podcasts, #blogs, #television). See who is starting a conversation regarding your interests and reach out!
- Find organized external slack group channels centered around affinity groups you identify with. Within each slack group find a channel for #newgrad, or find a #location channel, or channel of your specific interest. Reach out to those within this organized channel (“Women in Product, Women In Tech”) and/or reach out to those within your location & initiate a conversation and follow-up with a potential covid safe meet up.
As we navigate the social structure of the post-grad world, it’s fair to acknowledge that making friends virtually is awkward. However, working from home can be lonely and as humans we thrive off of meaningful and intentional interactions. So, no matter how uncomfortable it can be in the beginning, send that Zoom invite, ask your co-worker how they are doing, attend that large team event, and don’t be afraid to reach out. A small message can go a long way.