Interact and socialise beyond work; you need it

Workmates share a drink after work. [Getty Images]

Faith Nafula, a counselling psychologist, recently told The Standard that the return to working from the office was a welcome reprieve for people who were not enjoying the best of times in their matrimonial homes.

Such people have always used the office as a getaway from discomforts at home. Suddenly, courtesy of the marauding Covid-19, they were confined to little spaces with spouses who they are happy to escape from every morning. Marriages struggled; some completely crumbled.

Work environments in which people have made friendships, and can get compliments for reasons beyond their productivity, are some of the main motivators at work, Ms Nafula said.

People forge friendships in the workplace and some of them blossom outside the office. But is it right for colleagues at work to develop close friendships or should their interactions be limited to the office and their topics of discussion to what their work entails?

Cases abound of permanent friendships forged in the office. Some even take it further; they meet in the office, strike a conversation and in a few months, walk down the aisle as bride and groom.

They start beautiful families and live happily ever after or sometimes not while still working in the same office.

The Muse, a job searching, professional advancement and skills-building site, explains how after a week of working employees at the company meet on an evening and share light moments.

"On Fridays around 4pm, our dynamic changes. We close our laptops, grab a bottle of wine, and sit down for what we call 'Wine Time'," it says.

The same happens at The Standard Group; after a week of punching keyboards and traversing the country in pursuit of the most current, most relevant news, Friday evenings provide a few hours for interaction and blowing off some steam. Some organisations have regular tours and hikes, where colleagues can spend some time out of the office and bond.

Non-judgmental space

"It's a non-judgmental space - come whenever you can, stay as long as you want, bring up whatever's on your mind," says The Muse, explaining that the meeting has nothing to do with work and work schedules.

"Monday through Friday, almost everything we talk about is job-related: Is that article scheduled out yet? How do we feel about this title? Do you know which room we're meeting in? It's only when you're not in work mode-at happy hour, for example - when you can get to know someone.", a website that says it "offers advice on best business practices, inspiration from major personalities in business and entertainment, and motivation", says that workers meeting outside the office creates a synergy that could help a firm boost productivity.

"When employees get together outside of the normal work environment, it allows them to form a deeper bond. This may translate into better team dynamics and a more collaborative work environment. Colleagues who are in each other's lives work harder. You're no longer a collection of individuals who gather in an office but a true community pulling for group success," the site says.

It also says that the closeness forged can allow employees to develop a sense of accountability, as they can easily communicate without any barriers or fear.

"Communication, brainstorming and creative thinking will be more free-flowing and natural. They will also be comfortable enough to call each other out on a bad idea or non-performance, which leads to greater accountability," it says.

Best talent

This form of togetherness also ensures that there is better company culture, and the cohesion a company can forge among its workers makes it possible for employees to work with more commitment, as they are in a comfortable environment, and essence, such companies are able to retain their best talent.

The joy of having people one can talk to at work also means that one is always keen to be at work and they feel appreciated there, while a lot of time may be spent talking, happy workers are most often very productive: they give better quality and may be willing to work long hours when need be.

The social animals, humans are, every new connection is a chance at knowing a person who we might need somewhere.

Colleagues provide avenues to knowing more people, and these are people that we might need to form friendships with as well.

In an environment where all talk is about work, it is rare to know whose brother is a leading paediatrician, who has a relative in the judiciary, and whose cousin plays for Manchester United.

Interactions with colleagues beyond work help us understand all this, and these might be very important networks and links to have.

The downside of such relationships is the problems there could be in the case of their breakdown. It could create tensions in the office, which could be harmful to productivity. However, this barely happens and the pros of these interactions largely outweigh the cons.

If you can have an understanding with a colleague beyond work and are controlled so it does not compromise your relationship or performance at work, then this is a perfect balance worth pursuing.

After all, humans are social animals.

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