Congratulations! You landed your dream job or internship, you figured out how to #adult and find a place to live, and you revamped your wardrobe with pencil skirts and power blazers. You’re ready to take on the working world, either for the summer or for the next few years. As exciting as it is, it’s also terrifying to walk into the office on day one and know no one. It’s nerve wracking once you realize you don’t have the support system of your college friends by your side or even your go-to class buddies from your major. But this is different - it’s work. You can’t exactly become best friends with your co-workers, can you?
While there may be more established professional distinctions between you and your peers in the workplace than in the classroom, that doesn’t mean you should be complete strangers.
“Getting to know your coworkers in not only how they work, but who they are as people, is extremely important,” says Crystal McFerran, Vice President of Marketing for Velo IT Group. “When employees establish friendly relationships, they feel more committed to the team and accountable to shared goals.”
Co-Founder and CEO of Betches Media Aleen Kuperman also believes in the importance of creating relationships among co-workers, and the positive impact they can have on the overall work environment and quality of work produced.
“It's important to get to know your coworkers because you spend all day with them and it can become very alienating to spend the entirety of your day staring into your computer,” Kuperman explains. “At Betches, we find that when our employees work together on projects they're more creative, and the better they know each other the less afraid they are of judgment from one another when brainstorming.”
Breaking the ice
Don’t be afraid to make the first move, instead take initiative.
“Be confident in yourself, people are naturally attracted to people who feel secure in whatever they're doing,” advises Kuperman.
Waiting around to be acknowledged can be ineffective, and before you know it, you’re halfway through a summer internship where you aren’t 100% sure of your co-worker’s name.
“If you are the one wanting to make new friends and get to know people outside of work, you usually need to initiate it first,” says Heidi McBain, a licensed therapist. “People are often surprised to see how open people usually are to getting to know them outside of work.”
For all you know, your coworkers are too shy to step outside their comfort zones. By taking initiative and making an effort to start a rapport, they will automatically feel more comfortable since you are showing genuine interest in getting to know them.
You can start out by asking open-ended, light questions to figure out their interests. This gives people the opportunity to share a bit about themselves and allows you to discern how comfortable they are in conversations.
“Once you have a better idea of what their boundaries are, then it's safe to ask them some personal questions to find things in common and to break the ice,” advises Anna Nguyenova, a vice president of operations at an LA-based startup
Make sure that you are engaged during these initial conversation. Put your phone away so they know you actually care about what they are saying.
Once you’ve established a conversational relationship, you can build a friendship off of things you have in common. Maybe you both discovered that you loved studying abroad in Italy, so try out a new Italian restaurant during your lunch break and commiserate over missing authentic pasta. Or try out the new cycling studio after work - no pressure to carry on a conversation + endorphins?
Extending invitations goes a long way, so next time you’re getting up from your desk to do something, ask your peers to come with you. Grabbing lunch or coffee with your coworkers is a great way to establish a friendship - because let’s face it, a girl’s gotta eat, so why not bring a few new friends along?
“The easiest way [to get to know your co-workers] is to ask someone to go get lunch with you,” says Kuperman. “Even if you're just picking up food, you can get to know someone on the way there. Getting drinks or going to a workout class usually works, too!”
And inevitably, your fellow interns or colleagues will need caffeine to function too, so you may as well check out the indie coffee shop around the corner together.
Go outside your comfort zone
Getting involved in the office equivalent of extracurriculars - whether it be a sports team, volunteering, or a “Finer Things Club” a la The Office - allows you to further facilitate friendships with your coworkers and more opportunities to network with your superiors.
If the gym isn’t your scene, you may not win any promotions scoring points at your company’s sports tournament, but it’s a great way to hang out with your coworkers outside of the office.
Many offices also have happy hours after work, which is another great way to hang out with your peers in a more casual setting (plus, a glass of wine or a beer never hurt after a long day of work). Just make sure you bear in mind it’s still a work-like function - now is not the time to try and top your Spring Break tequila shot record.
In the end, a little effort goes a long way when it comes to making friends with your coworkers, and the effort can pay off tremendously both personally and professionally.
“The most important part of internships is the people you meet,” says Lauren Weetman, a sophomore at the University of Notre Dame. “Most people know the importance of networking with current employees, but it is possibly even more important to keep in touch with fellow interns as you begin your career with them.”
Initiating conversations and extending invitations are easy ways to include people and get to know each other. Just make sure to keep it professional and appropriate.
“It’s important to remember that the workplace is a professional environment, before anything else,” says Alyssa Cremeans, an account executive at Baker Public Relations. “When first starting your job, try to sit back and observe the culture of the company. Always be one to offer help when needed, and respect your colleagues’ work.”
Having fun and engaging people around you can make or break your work experience, and you have a degree of control over the situation if you take initiative.