Starting my first co-op work term from home was not ideal. As co-op students we are taught that networking is vital to career building. So how was I supposed to make meaningful connections with those around me… when they weren’t physically around me?
Those first few weeks I was completely lost. In terms of getting to know the people I was working with — they were just faces on a screen. As my work term at SFU Career & Volunteer Services later evolved into a hybrid model where I was in the office more and more, I began to realize the ways that I was impeding on my own ability to make connections. This led me into a self-reflection in which I became aware of 6 tips to build connections while working remotely and/or in a hybrid position.
In my first month at work (from home) it felt like all I did was introduce myself, telling people about what I’m studying and a few interesting hobbies. I thought: “This is so repetitive; I just want to work." It wasn’t until I started reflecting on how distant I felt from the people I work with that I realized introductions are crucial, especially in a remote setting. I am fortunate enough to be part of a team that considers icebreakers as essential. Icebreakers can bond people over jokes or similar interests and make your coworkers more comfortable around you, after getting to know some personal insights. During these fun activities, don’t be shy to ask questions! Ask personal questions like you would when trying to get to know a new friend (while respecting boundaries of course). Share photos so people can get a visual of who you are outside of work, introduce your pets, share previous work you’ve done! Through icebreakers and questions, you will be able to see your coworkers as human beings, not just workers or faces on a screen.
Another great way to build stronger relationships with your coworkers is to join committees or volunteering for collaborative projects. In my current placement, committees are made up of a smaller group of employees who work collectively on a project or goal. This is time for more one on one collaborative teamwork where you get to know individual employees personally. Whether you meet in a virtual setting or in person, this is an opportunity for you to engage with a smaller group of your teammates on a closer level.
Here, I’m not just talking about being engaged in your work, I’m talking about being engaged socially. If your workplace is anything like mine, people sometimes make jokes, conversate about non-work-related topics etc. I began to notice that I wasn’t really engaging with my coworkers when someone would say something funny or talk about something I am interested in. Maybe I was shy, maybe I was holding on to the idea that I had to be professional all the time at work. This began to impede my ability to make meaningful connections. A goal I have for my second term with CVS is to contribute to the conversation, say something back after someone makes a joke, engage with my peers socially.
When working remotely, I use Zoom to connect with my coworkers. Personalizing your background can give some insight into who you are and what you like. This is something I personally haven’t done, but other coworkers have. I realized this is a good way to include more personality. When working in the office people often decorate their space; they put up photos of their loved ones, put items that commemorate certain events etc. While we can do this at home, no one gets to see the space you’re working in. Changing your Zoom background is a good way to include some identity in a virtual setting.
Where I currently work, there are other co-op students as well. We are called the ‘youth’. We were never all in the office at the same time. This made it difficult to form relationships with all the ‘youth’. So, a student lunch was planned so we could all sit down, eat, and get to know one another. This gave us a chance to build stronger relationships, where we got to connect over hobbies and learn a little about each of our personal lives. We all followed each other on social media and now engage online while getting a glimpse into each other’s outside of work life. So grab lunch or go out for coffee with your coworkers because you could make a new friend!
You might be thinking obviously being yourself is a given! Something I became aware of after working remotely and moving into an in-person office space is how the office transforms. We are trained to be professional and this is, of course, a quality you want to keep. However, when you work from home, the office becomes the place where you can build authentic relationships, formed in person. As opposed to always working in the office, there are times when you have to be professional and times where you are able to be more sociable (like during break time). When changed to a hybrid work model, the office transforms too. The office becomes a place where the people around you can get to know you, so don’t let formality get in the way of being your true authentic self. The office is no longer just one space where you have times to be formal and times to be social. The office is two spaces: your home and the location of your workplace, which in turn changes the dynamic of the workplace. If you find yourself struggling to make connections with your coworkers while working remotely / in a hybrid position, these 6 tips can help you get started. These tips became apparent to me as I reflected on my relationships with the people I work with. Following these tips, I hope to generate stronger connections with my peers in my second work term with SFU Career & Volunteer Services.