Strong relationships at work have always been important. They are essential to career success, and we often spend more time with the people we work with than our own families. Research has shown the benefits of these relationships include a greater sense of wellbeing and trust, better collaboration and knowledge-sharing between colleagues, worker satisfaction, innovative thinking, and better performance.

Both employers and employees benefit from healthy workplace relationships.

For some people, these connections come easy, whether working in person or remotely, but not for everyone. And now that we are beginning to step away from more than a year of social distancing and isolation, we may find we all need to make a greater effort to create and nurture these bonds.

We’re all feeling just a little bit awkward in social settings right now – standing closer than six feet apart or potentially not wearing a mask can feel uncomfortable.

Also, a consideration is ‘how’ we work and collaborate. Many companies have found so much success with remote work that they are planning to continue with this model. Most employees (68%) value the option to continue working remotely. Others will be going back to a traditional workplace, and many will be doing some hybrid version of both.

The post-pandemic work dynamic will require all of us to rethink how we foster and improve workplace relationships.

For leaders, fostering beneficial workplace relationships requires being strategic.

Have a plan and share it. To set a team up for success, provide information well in advance of any changes to company plans or policies. Clearly set expectations for everyone. According to Harvard Business Review, the human brain needs to be able to “…create patterns that help us predict our futures and keep us safe.”

Not providing adequate information causes unnecessary anxiety. People need to feel safe and relaxed about the future to collaborate effectively and build relationships.

Start meetings with a question. It’s important to have a strong team dynamic that inspires loyalty between members. To achieve this, people need to get to know each other.

Try starting team meetings by having people answer a simple question. At Engagement Multiplier, we start meetings by asking, “What’s the one thing you’re feeling great about right now?” It gets everyone talking, builds connections, and facilitates information exchange. (Want to make meetings more productive and dynamic? Try our EPIC Meeting™ framework.)

Share a laugh. Shared laughter heightens our sense of similarity and impacts how much we like each other. Work opportunities for laughter into meetings. Try starting a meeting by asking people to recount something that recently made them laugh.

Shared laughter gives people a sense of similarity and likeability. It comforts and helps us let our guard down.

Show empathy and patience for those who struggled with relationships even before the pandemic. Loneliness was a challenge before 2020. The pandemic just exacerbated an existing problem.

Not all find it easy to connect with colleagues and it’s not something that can be forced.

Try creating opportunities for employees to connect by making time for people to simply get together, either in person or virtually. How about a virtual yoga class or a walking meeting outside? And don’t forget a tried and true favorite, invite the team to a happy hour – maybe even a virtual one.

Promote effective communication practices. Whether working remotely or in an office, clear and frequent communication to keep team members connected on a project and targets is essential.

Poor communication habits have the potential of creating a culture of distrust among workers. People get stressed and concerned about what others are doing which can cause unnecessary confusion and conflict.

This can be mitigated by using standard company communication channels to keep everyone informed. Who should do this? All of us. The information must flow down from leadership, up from workers, and laterally among colleagues.

Moving beyond what leaders must do to promote healthy workplace relationships, we all must do our part – for our own sake.

Culture is everyone’s responsibility

We can’t assume that because we are not in charge that creating a welcoming workplace culture is not our responsibility.

We ‘are’ the culture we work in.

If we want to work in a place that has great morale and shared values, we must be willing to partner with leadership and our peers in creating that environment. And we have to be personally responsible for how others relate to us.

To start, we must be positive and speak well of others. A positive attitude toward our work and coworkers is a powerful tool in building trust and creating an environment where all of us can flourish – and nurture healthy relationships.

Challenging ourselves (and each other) to assume positive intent is another step we can take in building healthy relationships. Simply starting from the belief that other people are doing their best (as opposed to actively working to undermine or disappoint you) can be transformative. It’s easier said than done – noted author Patrick Lencioni, in his book The Advantage, describes “the fundamental attribution error” as the human tendency to falsely attribute the negative behavior of others to their character, while attributing our own negative behaviors to our environment.

We build trust by being responsible for our own work and actions. When we make mistakes, we have to accept accountability, and when we succeed we have to acknowledge the teamwork that got us there. We must express our appreciation and show respect for our colleagues.

As John Donne aptly wrote, “No man is an island…” We succeed together and we fail together.

To create and nurture healthy and beneficial workplace relationships we must create that culture together.