Having friends at work isn’t just a “bonus” part of your job — advances in network science show that the relationships people have in an organisation predict their success.
Yet our very office spaces may prevent those bonds from being formed.
Consider the open office, where at least a third of us spend our workdays. In such spaces, workers sit side-by-side in open cubicles and at long tables.
That wall-less proximity makes it really easy to talk to someone next to you, but it also makes real communication difficult.
“Open office plans are harder to make friendships in,” says Susan Cain, the author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.”
“When people are first forming friendships, the currency they’re using is the exchange of confidences,” she says. For example, if I tell you something I wouldn’t tell anyone else, you’ll follow up by telling me something about yourself.
By openly sharing those vulnerabilities, trust gets a chance to form. But that won’t happen nearly as frequently in an open office, Cain argues. While there are indeed more spontaneous conversations among employees working in open plans, research shows that “they tend to be short and superficial — precisely because there are so many other ears around to listen.”
The trick, then, is to move into a more private, conversation-encouraging space, like an empty conference room or coffee shop. Or if nobody needs to take notes, go for a walk, which will make you more creative, too.
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