Admit it: Sometimes the thought of working alone seems appealing. 

You wouldn’t have to sit through unproductive meetings. You could focus on your to-do list without incessant instant message pings and emails. You’d be in control of getting what you need when you need it.

Snap out of your daydreaming for a minute. Sure, while teamwork and collaboration have their challenges, there’s a lot to be said for the importance of peer relationships at work. 

Why do peer relationships at work matter?

70% of employees say having friends at their job is the most crucial element to a happy working life. When asked to choose two emotions they feel when excluded at work, 40% of respondents across generations and genders said they’re most likely to feel ignored. 

Obviously, you don’t want any of your team members feeling isolated and unheard. But why else should you focus on connecting with peers at work? As it turns out, it offers a number of advantages — not only for individuals but for the entire organization. 

1. Peer relationships increase productivity and performance

Gallup research found that 30% of employees say they have a best friend at work. That percentage of workers is reportedly seven times as likely to be engaged with their jobs and produce higher-quality work. 

Additionally, tight-knit relationships with peers at work can boost employee happiness, which inspires them to get more done. Research by Oxford University found that workers are 13% more productive when they’re happy. 

2. Peer relationships boost retention

You want your best employees to stick around for the long haul. While there are a lot of factors that influence retention (from development opportunities to management), work relationships are a big piece of the puzzle. 

A study conducted by Workforce found that 62% of employees who had one to five close friends at work said they would reject another job offer. That number increases to 70% for employees who have six to 25 close work friends. 

3. Peer relationships improve team morale

Relationships at work keep your team’s spirits high. Research has shown that quality work friendships are intertwined with job satisfaction and happiness. 

It makes sense. When people get along, know that they’re supported, and feel connected to one another, they’re more likely to enjoy collaborating.

4. Peer recognition is motivating

We commonly see peer pressure as a negative influence, but your peers can actually act as a positive motivational force at work. According to an Employee Engagement and Organizational Culture report, peers and camaraderie are the main reasons why employees go the extra mile — not money. 44% of all workers will organically and consistently give each other recognition when offered the opportunity. 

Understanding the Importance of Peer Relationships at Work 2
(Source: Brooke Cagle via Unsplash)

Tips for building relationships with peers

The evidence is convincing. So how do you actually go about forming real bonds with the people you work with? Here are a few tips to help you lay the groundwork. 

1. Follow through on your promises

All the niceties in the world won’t lead to a solid relationship if you don’t start with the basics. The biggest one? Doing what you said you were going to do.

Trust is the foundation of any relationship (whether it’s personal or professional), so you need to start by living up to your word. Meet your deadlines. Complete your tasks. Don’t leave people hanging. 

Remember, people typically don’t want to form close bonds with people they can’t trust. 

2. Connect beyond your task list

Whether you’re asking about a project’s status or comparing your schedules for an upcoming meeting, there’s no shortage of work-related matters to chat about.

However, if you want to connect on a deeper level, make sure you check in about what’s happening with your colleagues personally — even if it’s something as simple as what they did that weekend.

It’s up to you to determine what you’re comfortable discussing with your coworkers. However, research from Olivet Nazarene University found that some people aren’t afraid to get pretty personal (with many discussing their love lives and even health issues). 

3. Offer praise and recognition

Compliments are powerful. In fact, studies have shown that praise activates the same part of our brains as a cash reward. Plus, we naturally like the people who compliment us. Yet, 40% of employees say they aren’t recognized enough at work. 

So, applaud your colleague for the impressive presentation they gave in a recent meeting. Thank them for their contribution to your project. It’s a seemingly small effort that can make a big difference in your relationship. 

4. Remember to listen

There’s little that’s more frustrating than feeling unheard. Your efforts to connect with your coworkers on a deeper level won’t pay off if you fail to actually listen to them.

Put down your phone. Close out all of your tabs for that video conference. Try your best to retain the information your team members share with you. If you don’t take that extra step, your efforts to build stronger relationships will seem empty and half-hearted.

5.  Avoid judgment

How often have you allowed yourself to become annoyed by a coworker you find "too much" in some way: too overbearing, too reserved, too loud? This annoyance bleeds into your every interaction with them, creating distance between you — which is not the ideal environment for collaboration. Judgments like these prevent you from getting to know your team members as they actually are. Let go of your preconceived notions and try to get to know them properly. More often than not, your initial impressions turn out to be wrong.

How to improve workplace relationships remotely 

Building relationships with your peers at work always involves some thought and conscious effort, but that’s especially true when you’re working remotely

You aren’t collaborating side-by-side, which can contribute to feeling disconnected and isolated. Buffer’s 2020 State of Remote Work Report found that loneliness is one of the biggest struggles when working remotely. 

So, how can you build positive workplace relationships — even when your team is spread out? Here are a few helpful strategies for remote work team building.

1. Make time for small talk

In a traditional office environment, small talk happens naturally. People chat as they grab a coffee in the break room or file into the meeting room for a weekly team sit-down. 

When you need to meet remotely, that’s easy to skip over. Everybody joins the video call and you get straight to business.

Instead, save a few minutes at the beginning or end of each meeting to check in on how people are feeling. What did they do that weekend? What’s been happening with them? Open the floor for everybody to engage in some friendly chatter. It’s more important than you think. 

2. Continue fun traditions

Team culture can be tough to maintain when you’re working remotely. You’re no longer doing monthly happy hours or themed desk decorating contests.

But, that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything fun with a remote team. Maybe you want to try some virtual team games, like a regular trivia contest via video for anybody who’s interested. Or perhaps you’ll start a weekly photo-sharing thread in Slack. Maybe you’ll even roll out a company-wide book club. 

Get creative and ask your team members what they’d enjoy. You’ll identify plenty of lighthearted and friendly opportunities for people to connect with each other. 

3. Offer support and resources 

If your team switched to remote work during the pandemic, you know that everybody is dealing with a lot right now. One of the best ways to forge more solid bonds is to offer your support. Rest assured, this doesn’t need to be anything complicated. Did you find a browser extension that’s made remote work a lot easier? Loop your team in. Have you discovered a way to keep your own kiddos occupied while staying home? Share it with your colleagues who are also parents.

You’ll prove that you’re still looking out for your team members — even if you aren’t working in the same physical space. 

4. Meet up in person

If it's possible, schedule in-person gatherings a few times a year. Taking your discussions offline is a surefire way to encourage more meaningful conversation, which in turn will inform how everyone collaborates remotely. Ensure that your meetups aren't all about work — organize some fun activities that you don't normally get to do together. 

Your work relationships matter

Peer relationships at work aren’t without their hiccups and challenges. However,  strong bonds with your colleagues can have numerous benefits.

Solidify peer relationships with a work management solution that improves visibility, simplifies collaboration, and boosts accountability. Wrike does all of that and more. Personalized dashboards offer transparency into team workloads and project status, while our handy @mentions take conversations out of lengthy email threads. You can collaborate in real time, accelerate feedback, and make your hard work visible with powerful reporting tools. 

To learn how Wrike helps teams build better rapport, sign up for a free two-week trial.