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Coworker connections are the missing piece

Who is your favorite person to see in the office?

From midday coffee chats to commiserating over deadlines, coworker relationships are a daily touchstone in our professional lives. New research suggests these work friendships are also key to productivity. 

“Productivity” can be a tricky concept to quantify. Output alone doesn’t capture it; high volumes of work do not always equate with high quality. There’s also the consideration of how an employee’s work fits into the company’s bigger objectives. As Tim Morten, Production Director and CEO of Frost Giant Studios, reflects, “Working from home, individuals were still productive, but we weren’t productive in sync. When we’re together, we can be sure we’re all rowing in the same direction.”

When his team worked remotely, Morten observed overall productivity decreased by 20 to 30%. Morten’s observation is backed by data: 2022 was the first year since 1983 when there were three straight quarters of year-over-year drops in average productivity per worker, according to ADP Research Institute. Virtual tools can enable work continuity, but when it comes to productivity, proximity to coworkers matters.

The Case for Work Friendships

There’s nothing quite like turning to a colleague and jumping into a brainstorm. But proximity to coworkers does much more than just enable these spontaneous moments. A growing body of research speaks to the positive impact of coworker friendships on everything from employee retention to mental health, which all factor into overall productivity.

Having strong coworker relationships is one of the best predictors of resilience and productivity, according to research from Achievers Workforce Institute. The study found respondents who say their company supports them in building relationships at work are three times more likely to report being their most productive selves at work. Having a best friend at work is linked to improved business outcomes, including greater profitability and employee retention, according to Gallup.

Turnover: The Silent Productivity Killer

Employees with weak coworker ties are not just less productive, they’re also a flight risk. McKinsey’s Great Attrition survey found that half the respondents who left their jobs in the past six months said they lacked a sense of belonging. This sets off a chain reaction: As employees leave, remaining employees suffer from low morale, are at increased risk of burnout due to heavier workloads and feel a diminished sense of company loyalty — all hurting productivity. Worse, it can take months for a new hire’s productivity to catch up to the employee they replaced.

Effective onboarding requires more than training and tools. It’s also about integrating the new hire into the fabric of a team and broader company culture. Microsoft, for example, found that when its new hires met with their buddy more than eight times in their first 90 days on the job, 97% said that their buddy helped them become productive quickly. But when new hires met with their buddy only once during the first 90 days, that number was 56%. Put simply: Coworker connection counts.

Toward a More Productive Future

Companies need to carefully consider what “productivity” looks like for their business and the role of human connection in creating it. When employees feel more connected to one another and their company culture, they’re more engaged, innovative and productive.

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