Does it matter whether you like your coworkers?
Before I began working in my current position, I would have argued that workplace camaraderie was a perk, a bonus, and not a crucial driver of productivity. This seems particularly intuitive in the context of remote work; when coworkers aren’t even working together in the same location, does it really matter how well everyone gets along, how regularly they offer each other encouragement, or how frequently they make each other laugh?
Actually, yes. It does matter. A lot.
Feeling authentic affection for your coworkers and enjoying the communication between you can make you more productive, while heightening the sense of meaning you attach to your work in general. One expression of this enjoyment, laughing together, can further heighten productivity among colleagues. A group of people who like each other and endeavor to make each other laugh can be an incredibly productive and effective team — a team with a sense of mission, focus, and unity.
Workplace Camaraderie Is a Priceless Business Asset
Getting along with your colleagues obviously makes life more pleasant, but this is hardly its only value. Coworkers who actually like each other and count each other as friends get more done and do better work. A study of 168 employees found that positive workplace relationships meaningfully enhanced performance as reviewed by supervisors.
According to Professor Teresa Amabile of Harvard Business School, “People are more creative and productive when they experience more positive inner work life, including more positive emotions, stronger motivation toward the work itself and more positive perceptions of the organization. . . And one of the things that contributes to positive inner work life is a sense of camaraderie with teammates and close co-workers — a sense of bonding and mutual trust.”
Motivation is such a critical piece of the workday when working remotely. Feeling a member of a team, of a working community, can drive productivity and improvement in ways that I had never realized or experienced in my adult life until recently. When you know that your colleagues will celebrate your every victory — that your achievements will be shared among a group of people who take pleasure in seeing you progress — each victory and incremental step forward feels better, more energizing, and more meaningful.
Liking the people you work with is no mere indulgence. Enjoying the respect and confidence of your supervisors and coworkers is a powerful motivator and has the power to energize your work process even on days when you feel fatigued or distracted. In a hybrid or remote working environment, it is easy to feel isolated, even alienated, from your workplace and your colleagues. If you’re lucky, you can show up, figuratively or literally, to the office-wide Slack channel or your desk, knowing that you’ll get the help and support you need — in the form of a laugh or an appropriate GIF.
Working from home does not mean you have to work by yourself. Take pride in your team and enjoy the pride they take in you; you’ll find that you’re more capable than you realize at doing work you enjoy with people you value.
Laugh Harder, Work Smarter
This isn’t just a matter of being cautiously friendly or prosocial, or even about being “work friends,” especially not in a remote context. I find myself cracking up at least several times a day at some exchange between colleagues in a Slack channel or a perfectly delivered joke from a teammate. This is particularly relevant today, as laughter has been in short supply over the past few years. As Stanford grad student Eric Tsytsylin recently noted, adults in the workplace are “in the midst of a laughter drought.” Whereas babies laugh, on average, 400 times a day, people over the age of 35, average only 15 instances of laughter daily.
Although hybrid and remote work environments seem to offer less opportunity for colleagues to joke around and laugh with each other, laughter in the workplace seems even more crucial right now, given the widespread sense of isolation so many are feeling, which can itself give rise to burnout on a job.
University of Warwick Professor Daniel Sgroi notes that laughter can trigger the dopamine and serotonin neurotransmitters that are recognized as mood-boosting.
According to Sgroi, laughter “fast tracks networks in the brain to help you concentrate and focus,” thereby boosting productivity, provided that the laughter is genuine. The link between productivity and happiness isn’t a new discovery, but only recently have there been studies documenting the phenomenon that “people who are happy, work harder.”
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We Are the Lucky Ones
During my first week of work at my current job, an offhand remark about Lisa Frank (of the famously whimsical early 1990s sticker and Trapper Keeper aesthetic) elicited a company-wide nostalgia fest, with everyone, from new employees like myself all the way up to the company CEO, contributing personal preferences and memories. I found myself laughing throughout the rest of the day even thinking about the discussion. Months have passed, and I find that I am still laughing, and that the burgeoning familiarity among the group amplifies our shared humor and enhances the notable chemistry among us. It makes for a dynamite team dynamic that energizes everyone. My work environment may be remote, but I never feel alone, and I look forward to starting work each morning.
Laughter and camaraderie are not workplace distractions; they function instead as scenic signposts that keep us on track and moving forward.