How to Create Workspaces Where Friendships Naturally Develop
Having friendly work relationships with our clients and team members can make business a lot more fun and rewarding.
I touched on this in my previous article, Connect With People, Make Friends With Your Clients and Teams. I don’t believe friendships only start by chance, by accidentally crossing paths with people who happen to be on a similar wavelength as us.
In business, just like in many other areas of life, a close connection can be developed between pretty much any two individuals who share something special in common, such as a goal or passion.
Countless highly acclaimed movies have been made about fictional as well as real-life characters who hated each other at first and would have happily thrown a toaster in the other’s bathtub, but through a series of shared experiences became close friends.
While these stories are often romanticised, their core message is very real:
When you take the time and effort to get to know the other person and find out what’s common between you, you’ll have a stronger sense of connection and find it easier to overcome your differences.
In this video, you can see Tony Robbins facilitating a discussion between a Pakistani Muslim and an orthodox New York Jew, just a few hours after the 9/11 attacks. By the end of the conversation, after realising that they want essentially similar things in life, the two men embrace each other and commit to working together in partnership to make the world a better place. This video has changed my thinking about what’s possible when it comes to building relationships.
You probably already have a lot in common with many of the people you meet through your business, including your clients, partners and team members but maybe you haven’t fully explored these shared goals and interests just yet.
So when two or more people come together to do business, what exactly needs to happen in order for them to get to know each other better than just as acquaintances or colleagues?
1. They need to feel relaxed and comfortable.
2. They need to feel accepted for who they are.
3. They need to feel safe to express themselves freely.
4. They need to find interesting and exciting topics to talk about.
5. They need to have a great time.
Of course, building rapport with others and encouraging them to open up largely comes down to communication skills. But the physical environment can set the scene for engaging conversations and prime people to talk to each other as friends.
Let me share a few suggestions for creating workspaces that help people connect:
1. Relaxing and comfortable.
Noisy, stuffy and badly lit workspaces are, sadly, way too common. And when your teams and clients are busy dealing with distractions and physical stresses, you really can’t expect them to be fully present with each other and chat in a relaxed manner.
So please make sure that your workspace is pleasant to be in; that it has quiet or moderately quiet areas, plenty of fresh air, comfortable temperatures, and good quality lighting that’s gentle on the eyes. Always choose comfortable chairs for your office; it’s not worth economising here.
2. Welcoming and genuine.
A few times during my career I’ve worked in bleak, institutional-looking offices where I felt I didn’t belong. It felt safer to check my personality at the door and just go through the motions at work. Making friends in these environments was not impossible, but happened quite slowly.
In contrast, in workspaces with an authentic and welcoming ambience, people tend to come out of their shell more easily. I suggest you do what you can to create an office space that embodies the personality of your business, and has a style that your teams and clients want to relate to. Put simply, just make your people feel at home.
3. Inclusive and accommodating.
While many people can talk about themselves and their ideas with little inhibition, others are a bit more cautious and need to feel safe and accepted in order to open up. Therefore I recommend that you create peaceful, cosy meeting and social spaces where self-conscious people can engage in relaxed conversations.
Use soft finishes to make these areas more accommodating and to reduce echo. These spaces should also provide visual and acoustic privacy and accommodate no more than six to eight participants. Seating should ideally be arranged in a circle (or square), sending the message that everyone in the group is equal.
4. Sparking conversations.
When you want to run a meeting efficiently, it’s best if you can keep the discussion on track. But when you want to build relationships, you should let the conversation go off on tangents at times and touch on subjects unrelated to business.
The decoration and objects in your office could spark insightful discussions. For example, consider displaying intriguing artworks in your workspace. Tell your teams to bring unusual personal items to the office and decorate their desks as they please. Encourage them to stick thought-provoking articles, images and photos on the walls. As a bonus, these objects will enhance the creativity of your team and make your office a more delightful place.
5. Lifting the mood.
Laughter and fun can loosen people up and create a sense of camaraderie almost instantly. Several times in the past I got introduced to clients and colleagues in humorous situations, and we clicked straight away. Having a fun time in the workplace doesn’t come naturally to everyone; however, a playful physical environment can give people permission to drop their guard and not take themselves so seriously.
Your workspace shouldn’t look like a kindergarten, but using bright colours, quirky furniture and humorous imagery here and there can set the mood. You could also set up an area where your teams (and visitors) can play games or music together.
+1. Thinking of those far away.
Seeing people face-to-face is the best way to develop close connections. For this reason, your office should be an inviting place where your team members and clients want to go even when they have the option to communicate or collaborate remotely.
However, bringing people into the same room is not always possible, so consider using telecommunication technologies that create an experience as close as possible to face-to-face contact. When you run video conferences, set up the room and technology in a way that every participant can see and hear each other well, so much so that they are able to express and read subtle emotions.
I’m convinced that valuing friendships and friendly relationships at work can only enhance the credibility of your business, as well as your people’s work ethics and productivity.
It can contribute to a trusting and caring culture where team members, clients and partners all want the best for each other and are excited to see each other succeed.
You’ll need to invest time and effort to make this happen, but setting up a physical space where friendships naturally develop – by acting on some of the recommendations above – will be a great start.
“The opinions expressed by Smallville Contributors are their own, not those of www.smallville.com.au"
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