Social interactions are at the heart of the workplace for many people. Workplace friendships help to cultivate a sense of belonging and commitment that can help reduce turnover, while strong advice networks can help organisations solve problems more quickly, improve innovation, and capture and manage knowledge more effectively. In other words, workplace networks are vital to an organisation’s performance.
Traditionally our workplace played an important role in helping to build and maintain networks. We speak to people in corridors and staff rooms, in the kitchen as we make our lunch, or in the queue of the work canteen. Sometimes those conversations are just small talk, but they matter. They help us find people who share our interests and those whose company just helps make work that bit more enjoyable. Sometimes they lead to deeper conversations about projects we are working on, and can lead to us to think about the same thing in a different way, or to new opportunities and connections.
Not only do workplaces provide environments that facilitate unscheduled and incidental conversations, they are also rich with cues about how to communicate and build these networks. Workspaces provide clues to the hierarchy, whether through the fact that some people’s offices are hidden away or access is restricted through gatekeepers, or because the spaces reserved for some people are bigger or grander than others. We also get cues about who and how we should approach people – we see the people who always seem rushed, or who others seem nervous around, as well as those who seem welcoming and approachable.
The online workplace is not like this though, and employees reported missing these unscheduled conversations in the Covid era.
What do organisations need to think about to help networks work for them?
- Understand the different needs of your workforce
- Understand what the purpose of the workspace is and how it will support your networks
- Consider how you can bring your "out groups" in
- Creative inclusive workplaces.