Despite the seismic recent changes in work culture, there are still millions of us seeing our colleagues in the flesh most days. There are still the reassuring passive-aggressive notes on office fridges, there is still a battle between colleagues for the ‘best desk’, and simmering resentment when we’re asked to contribute to a gift for that guy in the office who once insulted our beloved football team. But do colleagues bring us benefits too?
No matter where we work - in the office, home or elsewhere - I reckon these regular cast members in our lives have some important uses:
1. To offload
If a customer is giving you a hard time, a few supportive or even light-hearted words from your colleague can lighten your mood and make you feel a little better. No matter your seniority, don’t hesitate to share hassles now and then – it’s detrimental to bottle up all your work troubles. Share the horror of neglecting to order the Penguin Mice for the Penguin Mouse demo… No doubt your colleague will have been in a similarly super-cringe situation too.
2. To watch out for you
One in three of us live alone in the UK, and a good colleague is one that notices you, takes an interest in you and gives you some simple human interaction. It’s the community thing to do. The regularity of our contact means that your colleague might spot a problem that a friend or family member that sees you less often doesn’t.
If you and your team work from home, still take the time to weave a little sociability into your day and check in on your colleagues.
3. To celebrate the successes
You’ve just secured a meeting with Waitrose! Your standing desk invention has been taken up by Posturite! Nothing worse than a high five moment… with no one to high five. Your partner just won’t appreciate the magnitude of the news that you finally sold that pig-ugly semi on the wrong side of town – but your colleague will. Enjoy the highs of work together with a beverage of your choice.
4. To mix with different age and experience groups
Your social circle might be a bit niche. Enforced mixing at work with people twenty years your junior and senior or from a different background can be a very good thing for you – and for society. You might even discover a new best friend in the next-door office and she was buying Billy Idol singles before you were a twinkle in your father’s eye.
We can learn from members of other generations and cultures working with us and tap into their life experiences. We might be interested – and confused – about topics which weren’t widely discussed in previous decades such as gender identity, and our colleagues can improve our understanding and or alter our preconceptions.
The same goes for diversity aside from age – it’s really interesting to meet people from different communities in work scenarios and perhaps you’ll have a great deal more in common than you expected.
Could you create a sense of a community working together to a common goal? If so, your organisation will enjoy a business advantage.
5. To be a sounding board for your ideas
Sometimes in your job, you hatch a plan that you’re excited to develop but it’s not until you talk it through with a colleague that an enormous pitfall comes into view. Conversely, feedback and comments on your partially genius idea from a colleague could lead you in the direction of a genuinely genius idea. Where would Steve Wozniak have been without Steve Jobs?
Colleagues are also great sounding boards for ‘What’s the right and ethical thing to do here?’.
6. To gain from their experience
One of the top concerns some people have about the new era of remote working is the diminishing opportunity for young workers and new starters to learn from more experienced co-workers. It’s a very valid point because listening is a key aspect of learning. How did she handle that call with the tricky supplier? How did he answer that client question about timings? We do need to shadow a more experienced employee if we can, to learn the tools of the trade and learn how to resolve issues, but also to learn the nuances of appropriate work behaviour.
And do pick the brains of colleagues in different departments too, to help you in your personal life now and then. Most people working in finance won’t mind if you ask them what on earth some financial term means that is perplexing you, for example.
7. To share the ‘best’ parts of the day
You might be tired after work and perhaps before work is a mad rush. You may actually have more availability to talk to people mid-weekday and your colleagues are potentially seeing you at your best, when you’re alert and more dynamic. So make the most of this time. You could even get your work team together to support a charity.
Your working day is still ‘your day’. Aim for life-work balance rather than work-life balance.
8. To partake in office chat
Have you noticed how jolly some people are in the grimmest or most challenging of jobs? Working in an office myself, I do notice this in hospitals (and police stations, but we’ll gloss over why I’d know about those.) Good banter (and by this I mean good-humoured laughs, not mean or offensive stuff) in a workplace brings a lot of joy to people.
I’d recommend aiming for in-person interaction away from screens when you can, and having a laugh together to diffuse tension. If your jobs are very sedentary and computer-based, doing some more practical jobs together now and then will actually help you get to know each other and talk – sorting out storage cupboards and the like.
Office chat is fun online for remote workers too of course. Why would Microsoft Teams offer Gifs if it wasn’t appropriate to use them? Fun fact – you’ll get a different selection of clips for the Gif search ‘you are kidding’ to ‘are you kidding me?’ – might be handy next time your job is a little, well, frustrating.
And dark humour to cheer up more uneventful jobs is a winner between some colleagues. Enduring a less enjoyable job can bring you together. For ultimate Office Life in the 1990s nostalgia by the way, watch the ‘Clockwatchers’ film where four women form an unexpected bond in a soul-destroying workplace.
So enjoy the ride if you know that your colleagues have got your back – I wouldn’t go as far as saying they’re your 9-5 family, but colleagues do have their uses.