It’s important to me to get to know as many of my colleagues as I can. By forming relationships with both engineers and non-engineers I get a more holistic understanding of the product I help build and other people’s relationship to it. I work on one small part of our flagship product, and there are other engineers, marketers, data analysts and sales people who are also invested in its success. Plus, adults typically spend way more time with their colleagues than their loved ones, or even alone with themselves. Given that ratio, I think it’s a good idea to make friends at work!
1. Take a coffee break together
I enjoy walking to the neighborhood coffee shop with colleagues. It’s a great opportunity to ask them questions about their work, their lives, and ask them for advice.
It can get expensive buying coffee and tea all the time, though, so if I feel tapped out I’ll either bring something to drink with me, or offer to turn our coffee trip into a walk around the block together. Our office kitchen is well-stocked with coffee and tea as well, so I’ll sometimes suggest just staying in.
- Maintaining established relationships
- Forming early connections with new colleagues when starting work at a new company
- Forming early connections with a new colleague who recently joined the team or office
- Short conversations about parts of the code or architecture you want to understand better
- Connecting with colleagues who don’t have a lot of free time, such as managers and executives
- Learning more about colleagues on a personal level. Some people aren’t comfortable talking about their lives or their families while in the office
- Informational interviews to learn more about what people in your organization do, or to ask questions about other parts of the business
Not Good for
- Long conversations
- Expressing needs or career goals. This type of outing might be too casual for that unless there’s already a strong rapport.
- “Hey Alex, I’m going to walk over to ( name of coffee shop ). Want to come?”
- “Hey Alex, I’d love to have 20 minutes of your time this week to discuss ( thing you want to discuss ). Which day this week is best for you?”
2. Have lunch together
This is a good way to connect with colleagues I’ve already gotten to know a little bit, because by this point we’ve usually found some things we have in common. This makes the longer conversation that inevitably happens over lunch pretty easy.
Going out to lunch all the time gets expensive, though. I sometimes invite folks to have lunch with me even if I brought my lunch that day.
- Maintaining relationships
- Expressing needs or career goals
- Quarterly check-ins with managers or executives
- Squeezing in time with someone who’s always busy — everyone needs to eat!
- Longer or more formal conversations, since lunch usually lasts 30-60 minutes
- Learning about more complex technical topics, since you usually have around an hour of someone’s time
Not good for
- Colleagues who don’t have a lot of spare time, since lunch can take up 30 – 60 minutes of their day
- People with food allergies or dietary restrictions, who may have a hard time finding something to eat on the menu.
- Colleagues who don’t want to share a lot about their personal life. Be prepared to talk only about work if that’s the case.
- “Hey Alex, I’ve been meaning to try the food at ( name of restaurant ). Want to join me there some day this week?”
- “Hey Alex, want to have lunch with me? I brought mine today, but we could chat in the kitchen once you’re back from getting yours.”
- “Hey Alex, want to have lunch with me? I brought mine today but could use some exercise. I’ll walk with you to get yours, and then we can eat back at the office.”
3. Take a walk together
This is my favorite way of spending time with colleagues because I love to get outside, get my blood flowing and enjoy the city.
- Saving money. Walking is free!
- Days when you otherwise wouldn’t get outside
- Private conversations that need to happen away from the office
- Longer conversations. Plenty of time to meander, ponder and loop back to things.
- Mentorship, which can sometimes involve personal advice that wouldn’t be appropriate or useful for the rest of the office to hear
- More serious conversations. Facing away from each other during conversation can alleviate the social pressure that can arise when facing each other during discussions.
Not good for
- Shorter conversations
- Colleagues with mobility challenges
- People with limited free time, unless it’s for something important
- “Hey Alex, we haven’t had the chance to talk lately. Want to take a walk this afternoon and catch up?”
- “Hey Alex, I wanted to get your thoughts on ( thing you need help with ). Would you be up for a walk this afternoon?”
4. participate in discussions on slack
I’m guessing that most tech companies these days use Slack or a similar internal tool for employee communication.
After I started my first software engineering role, I spent a few weeks observing what went on in various Slack channels before posting in them. I wanted to understand who was most vocal, what the different channels were for, and what my colleagues’ humor styles were.
I’m really glad I made time to understand the company culture around Slack before I dove in because it allowed me to learn a lot about my colleagues’ personalities.
- Showing your sense of humor
- Building your personal brand through the things you post
- Inviting anyone who’s interested to join you for something
- Asking questions whose answers may be useful for the channel
- Asking questions when you’re unsure who would be the right person to ask
- Sharing work-related knowledge, especially technical blog posts and StackOverflow threads 😉
Not good for
- Jumping right in after starting a new job, unless it’s to get questions answered. Still, be strategic about the types of questions you ask and in what channels.
- I try to objectively assess whether or not the thing I’m going to post will add value to my team or company. I ask myself, does this post:
- Clarify information?
- Share knowledge with the group?
- Ask a question whose answer will be useful to the group?
- Foster connection with your colleagues in a way that is friendly, polite, and kind?
5. chat privately on slack
I primarily use Slack as a much faster version of email, in the sense that I tend to stick to private or small group messages rather than posting in public channels.
Further, I mostly use Slack to gather information from other engineers or our product manager in order to complete my tasks. The rest of my team doesn’t necessarily need to be bothered with these very specific questions, which usually makes direct messages the best fit.
- Asking questions that are easily conveyed in writing
- Arranging a time to meet (for coffee, or lunch, or a walk…)
- Taking a public conversation private, such as adding more detail to a thread when that detail wouldn’t be useful for most people in the thread
Not good for
- People who are under a tight deadline, because their focus might be interrupted
- Asking questions whose answers others may find useful; ask in a channel instead
- Asking questions that aren’t easily conveyed in writing and would be better asked in person
- I avoid writing in a way that comes across as weak, unsure, or equivocating.
- I try to match the other person’s conversation style. If they are brief, succinct and don’t use emojis… I’ll be brief and succinct and won’t use emojis. This will help people subconsciously connect with you because you’re writing in a way they understand and are familiar with.
6. get to know your team’s humor style
Like I mentioned earlier, when I started my new job it was important to me to understand the humor in the office and on my team. I sometimes struggle with social awkwardness and I wanted to avoid saying something that * I * thought was funny but that might not be appreciated by others.
After observing the banter and back-and-forth in Slack for the first couple weeks without jumping into it myself, I eventually learned that my team’s humor is quick-witted, a bit dry, understated, and driven by GIFs. I love reading it in messages, but find I’m usually not fast enough to chime in before a good moment passes. But that’s okay, because now that I know what works I can fit myself in every once in awhile!
- Learning how people use humor to communicate
- Easing communication by meeting people where they are
Not good for
- Communication styles that you really can’t align with (humor that’s angry, complaint-based, offensive, etc.)
- Humor has its own flavor depending on who is creating it. This means that the office as a whole may have an over-arching humor style, while the engineering team itself has a different humor style. Your specific team may have its own sense of humor as well. Knowing how the humor changes across these invisible social lines can help you communicate more effectively inside each social circle.
7. host a weekly get-together
In my first week at my new job, I decided to host an informal tea party in the office kitchen as a way to start learning people’s names and roles. I posted a message to our #san-francisco-office Slack channel in the morning with details, and a reminder message 5 minutes before the tea party. It was well-attended, and I’ve kept up the ritual almost every week! Each week I bring a new type of tea to share, and folks also bring their own drinks sometimes.
We have a some other weekly events at our office, too, including Game Night and a lunch & learn for engineers.
- Sharing interests with colleagues
- Spending time with several people at once
- Having a set day and time to meet up with colleagues
- Putting yourself out there and becoming known in the office
Not good for
- Getting to know people one-on-one
- People who aren’t interested in your thing
- People who don’t have the time to organize and manage recurring events
8. ask for help
Whether it’s a technical question or reaching out for general advice, I don’t shy away from leveraging the skills and experiences of those around me. Asking technical questions with clarity and confidence is a bit of an art, so please check out the links below for some useful templates.
- Giving others the opportunity to feel helpful
- Demonstrating prior knowledge while also learning new skills
Not good for
- Asking the wrong person
- Getting someone else to do the work for you
- Posting questions that require long answers in a Slack channel. Generally, the longer you think the answer is going to be, the better it might be to ask the question face-to-face.
- Julia Evans wrote a fantastic blog post about how to ask good questions. PLEASE READ IT! Truly, it’s awesome.
9. Go to Your Colleagues’ Events
Building relationships with colleagues doesn’t have to happen only at the office! Does your team or company ever go to the movies or go out for drinks on a Friday evening? Do you have colleagues who are involved in the arts who are performing or showcasing their work? These are all great opportunities to get to know your colleagues as people and not just as “people you work with”.
- Getting to know co-workers on a personal level
- Showing colleagues that you enjoy their company by spending time with them outside the office
Not good for
- This option could be difficult for people with social anxiety
- Potentially not good for folks who don’t drink, but whose teams do
- Folks with long commutes or other responsibilities that prevent them from staying beyond work hours
- Decide in advance if you are comfortable drinking alcohol with your colleagues, and if so, how much and in what environments.
I hope this list of strategies helps you create and strengthen the rapport you have with your colleagues. Remember, building strong relationships takes time! Try a few of the above suggestions and see which work best for you and your team.
Do you have any other ideas or practices you’d like to share? Any questions I can answer? Let me and other Empowered Engineers know in the comments below!