I once landed on a former work wife’s doorstep in Nashville for a weeklong stay only to realize when I got there that we’d met in person exactly once.
It was awkward for about a minute, but a single hug later we were picking up in real life where we’d left off online. After endless chats, years of liking each other’s Facebook posts, and hours of commiserating over everything from micromanaging bosses to the single life, we weren’t just colleagues. We were friends.
Working remotely doesn’t have to be a solitary endeavor, especially now that more people are doing it and getting comfortable connecting with one another online using a variety of tools and apps.
Just because there’s no seltzer dispenser to gossip around, no cafeteria to gather in, or no office to go to, doesn’t mean you can’t make friends with your colleagues. There are lots of things you can do to get to know them whether they’re a county, a country, or an ocean away.
You just may have to put a little more effort into it, especially if you’re the new hire. Here are eight simple tips you can try:
1. Introduce yourself.
You may not be able to walk to someone’s desk to say hello, but you can ping them on Slack or set up a call to introduce yourself.
Start by reaching out to the people on your team. Next, reach out to your broader department and to other colleagues you find yourself collaborating with on projects. Being the new person in the office is a license to get to know people. Take advantage of it.
“Setting up casual calls is a nice way to both potentially meet people who might become your friends and excel at your job, so it’s a win-win situation,” says Jill Duffy, a veteran remote worker and author of The Everything Guide to Remote Work.
If you’re struggling to come up with the right words, ask your new colleague to tell you more about their role or their team. You can also ask what advice they may have for a new hire. Some people love sharing the things they wish they’d known when they were in your shoes.
2. Initiate virtual coffees or cocktails.
Arrange virtual coffees or happy hours to connect with people. Throughout my career, I’ve found asking people for a one-on-one coffee to be key for building individual relationships at work, but if you’re more comfortable in a group, or if you’re the new person on an established team, consider a group happy hour.
Make the time to ask people how they’re doing and be open to talking about more than work. Ask about their favorite hobbies or for a book, podcast, movie, or TV recommendation. (Taking them up on their rec might provide fodder for your next chat and it can also help you build and deepen the relationship.)
3. Connect with your colleagues on social media.
This one can be a bit tricky. If you’re a manager, for example, your direct reports may not feel comfortable connecting with you on social media. And some people intentionally keep their networks on social platforms small—or separate from their professional life.
Give them their space, and consider connecting with colleagues who are more public and open to interacting on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and beyond. That colleague who’s always sharing recipes and photos of the gorgeous meals they make on their personal blog will probably appreciate your likes and comments on their posts.
4. Be consistent.
In real life or online, friendships are rarely built in a day. If that first virtual coffee goes well, consider planning another. If that goes well, consider making monthly coffee chats a regular calendar item.
But interacting doesn’t always have to mean hopping on a video call. Fill in the gaps by joining conversations in Slack, sharing emoji reactions, and liking social posts. The more you engage with a person, the stronger a professional relationship—and personal friendship—you can build.
5. Be human.
No one wants to network all the time. To make friends with your colleagues, you’re going to need to let your guard down a little bit. You don’t need to share deep secrets, but you should try to make interactions about more than just work.
If everyone shares pet photos in a Slack channel, consider posting one of your super cute pup. If someone asks for travel advice from a place you know well, share your tips. If you have the best recipe for lasagna or blueberry pie, share it, maybe with a photo from the last time you made it.
6. Join a social slack channel—or create it.
Lots of companies have social channels, alumni channels, and community channels on Slack or Microsoft Teams. Join them and don’t be afraid to contribute to or spark a conversation.
If your company doesn’t have a social channel you wish existed, consider starting one. “In remote work, it’s very common for social activities to be started by the people who want them,” Duffy says. “Don’t sit around waiting for someone above you, like a manager, to create a place for social engagement.”
This could be a channel to share tips for keeping those houseplants alive, swap recipes and dinner ideas, or talk about the books people are reading. Consider hosting events for members of the channel as well. Create a Slack channel for book recommendations? Try a virtual, in-person, or hybrid book club. Create a Slack channel for runners? Meet up for a race.
7. Make an effort to meet your coworkers in person when you can.
You may not have to go to an office every day, but you can still go to lunch, grab a coffee, or head to a happy hour with local colleagues—or schedule time to do the same if you happen to be visiting. “Meeting up with people in-person helps a lot, especially for extroverts,” Duffy says.
If your company hosts a retreat or if you find yourself visiting headquarters, use it as an opportunity to socialize with your colleagues. Get a group together for a meal or ask colleagues to join you for coffee or a cocktail.
8. Remember that not everyone wants to be friends.
Just because you’re in the market for new friends doesn’t mean your colleagues are, Duffy says.
Some people prefer remote work because there’s less pressure to socialize with coworkers. They may prefer to spend lunch hours and coffee breaks with kids, significant others, roommates, pets, or virtual fitness classes.
If someone isn’t interested in chatting about anything beyond the project at hand, give them space and introduce yourself to another colleague.