A consequence of our often never-ending to-do lists at work is the loss of camaraderie among coworkers. While productivity is important, the balance between task completion and taking the time to connect with your team is essential in avoiding burnout and making work more enjoyable. The common misconception is that there simply isn’t enough hours (or energy) in the day to get your work done and socialize; the reality is that just a quick slack message, coffee run, or group share in the beginning or ending of a meeting are all simple yet impactful acts that require minimal effort and time and thus make the former argument null and void. Studies show that socializing, despite feeling like a daunting task, can be effective in combating mental fatigue by energizing us. Increased energy improves performance and therefore proves socializing to be even more beneficial than the head down work one might prioritize over fostering those connections with colleagues.
When you’re feeling behind on tasks and pressed against deadlines, catching up with and connecting with colleagues is about the last thing you feel like doing. You just want to put your head down, check off tasks on your to-do list, and get things done.
There are absolutely times when you should put on blinders and focus solely on your tactical objectives. But exclusively interacting in a transactional manner with your coworkers could cause you to lose any sense of personal connection, especially if you work remotely. By taking even a few minutes each day to foster a sense of rapport at work, you could unlock the key to a greater sense of purpose and well-being, reduce burnout, and even improve your performance.
So how do you make time for people without feeling more stressed and overwhelmed? As a time management coach, I’ve seen that with just a little more intention, you can make much more meaningful connections without investing much time.
Chat in One-on-One Meetings
If you already have one-on-one meetings scheduled with your team, take a few minutes at the start of the discussion to find out how they’re doing before jumping to the business agenda. You don’t need to spend the whole time on personal updates, but even reserving five minutes to ask about their recent vacation, find out if their mom is out of the hospital, or to see how they’re recovering from surgery can make a difference.
You can use the same strategy for one-on-one meetings with colleagues who you regularly work with on projects. Depending on the length of the meeting and how much you need to cover, you may not have time to catch up each time. But if every few meetings you use a few minutes at the beginning or end to talk about more than the projects at hand, you can strengthen those ties. This could include bonding over your excitement about a particular sports team, talking about your families, or discussing anything else that gives you space to connect beyond a one-dimensional, task-oriented level.
If remembering details about people’s lives doesn’t come naturally to you, make a private note in your calendar with memory cues, such as asking them about their new puppy, about their kids’ latest extracurriculars, or how their side venture is going.
Encourage Group Sharing During Meetings
In a large team meeting, there won’t be much space for personal catchups. But if you have a smaller team, it may be appropriate to take some time on a weekly or monthly basis for updates. This could be as simple as a quick share at the beginning of a meeting about a recent event, such as attending an industry conference. This can also happen organically if you work in person and have a specific forum designated for it: for example, if you bring in coffee and bagels on Monday mornings and have breakfast together, or if there’s a Friday afternoon happy hour. Even 15 to 20 minutes of unstructured talk can lead to a greater sense of team engagement.
If you’re part of a remote or hybrid team, it may be harder to connect organically. Consider hosting a virtual happy hour or have a few people share during a team meeting. Just keep these updates short so that the highs and lows don’t turn into a viral meme.
Turn Breaks into Informal Social Time
Grab a bite to eat with colleagues over your lunch break. Your meeting schedule may not allow a proper lunch break every day, but blocking out at least a couple of days a week where you’re not multi-tasking at your computer can make your lunch more enjoyable and more social. This could be planned out in advance, where you meet up with someone in another department who you don’t get to see often, or it could be more informal with a team member who works right by you. If you’d like to have a relaxed approach, simply ask someone if they want to join you when you’re heading out the door or reheating your leftovers.
Social breaks can also effectively combat mental fatigue in the mid-afternoon slump and help you feel refreshed for the final work stretch before you’re done for the day. When you notice your eye lids drooping and your head bobbing, stand up and get moving. If you’re in the office, this is an excellent time to walk the halls and connect with a few people or invite someone to grab a cup of coffee. Similar to lunch, you can stop by to chat with members of your own team or drop in on a different department. The movement and conversation will wake you up and serve as a time of connection and potentially internal networking. If you’re working remotely, send a friendly Slack message to a colleague, rather than turning to scroll social media. Even if they’re too busy to respond, they may offer to catch up with you later.
Make Calls During Your Commute
If you commute into the office or travel for business, some of your travel times could offer an ideal opportunity to catch up in an informal manner with colleagues. One of my clients who was an executive with a packed meeting schedule used his drive home to reach out and have informal conversations with his leaders. This helped him get a more personal view on their thoughts and concerns, as the company was going through a major transition.
When you’re on the road, you can call from airports, Ubers, or hotels or send messages when you’re waiting in lines or on trains. Even a five- to 10-minute conversation can increase your rapport and, most importantly, show that you care.
Take Advantage of Virtual Messaging
If you’re working exclusively remotely, the options for informal social connection will be limited. In these cases, you can simply send a quick chat message or text asking how someone is doing or share a quick update with them.
These conversations can end up taking a lot of time if you’re not conscious of how long they go, so you’ll want to limit how frequently you engage in purely social messaging. But reaching out a few times a week can be fun and help you feel connected. Consider pinging people at natural times when you would have said “Hello!” to coworkers in the past, such as when you first get to your desk, around lunch, or when you’re waiting for a meeting to start.
It can be a challenge to find time to talk with people when you barely feel like you have time for completing tasks and projects. But there are benefits to connecting with your coworkers. Rather than keeping your head down and focusing only on work, find those pockets of time in your schedule where you can thoughtfully connect with colleagues.