Five reasons why it pays to know your coworkers

Marina Pape
September 7, 2020
Head of Marketing

Tech has changed a lot of things. Not least the way we communicate and work with people.

Rapport with coworkers was traditionally established across boardroom tables and during quiet moments making tea in office kitchens. Today, a Giphy on Slack is the equivalent of a nod in the corridor and a Zoom call brings remote colleagues together across time zones and continents.

We can automate most anything. Work and life happens at pace. Is it still worth investing time in actually getting to know your coworkers?

We think so. And here are five reasons why:

1. Honesty and trust makes for more resilient workplaces

In her book, Beyond Measure: The Big Impact of Small Changes, Margaret Heffernan points to the importance of social capital. She describes this as the “trust, knowledge, reciprocity and shared norms that create quality of life and make a group resilient”. These connections within a group are what prompt people to share ideas or concerns and encourage constructive conflict.

People should feel confident in challenging their co-workers as there is a level of trust that ensures they will not be judged or ignored for disrupting the status quo. This is especially the case amongst newer employees, who may feel they are speaking out of turn when they challenge those who have more experience. However, in organisations with high degrees of social capital, disagreement does not feel like it is dangerous, it is taken as a sign that you care.

Disagreement and debate are the best means to improve an idea. Heffernan explains how social capital compounds over time: this process becomes easier the more you get to know your employees, which in turn leads to more debate and therefore better ideas. 

2. Social sensitive groups trump lone superstars

Thomas Malone and a group of MIT researchers analyzed groups that were particularly successful at solving problems in an attempt to identify the salient features that made some teams work better than others. One of the three key qualities that they identified was social sensitivity. In other words, those who were more attuned to one another and were aware of changes in the mood or demeanor amongst their teammates worked together much more effectively. Malone’s research demonstrates the critical importance of knowing the quirks of your team and allowing each individual to contribute in their own way.

Interestingly, he argues that this quality is more important than a group with just one or two superstars; it is the relationship between individuals that make the most successful groups.

3. Belonging drives engagement

A 2018 survey from Culture Amp and Paradigm found that 'belonging factors' such as a sense of acceptance and inclusion within the company were strongly and consistently correlated with employee engagement. Engaged organisations can reduce staff turnover by 87% and improve performance by 20%. Whatever it looks like to drive belonging in your organisation – thoughtful onboarding material, assigning a buddy to new hires, or making a way for people to share something personal – it's worth it.

A 2018 Gallup Poll found that having a ‘best friend’ at work can lead to a potential 12% higher profit for the company - so the bottom line is not unaffected.

HBR wrote recently about the ‘little thing that affect our working relationships’ including ‘micromoves’: “small actions or behaviors that seem inconsequential in the moment but affect how we relate to one another”. Company directories can help people get to know one another and to remember the little things (like work anniversaries, birthdays, or hobbies).

4. Interaction is as important as skill

Alex Pentland builds on Malone’s study and in his own research found that patterns of interaction were as important as individual, skill, personality and contents of discussion combined. The report found that the interactions between people - at meetings but also in brief exchanges in the hallway - made a measurable difference to productivity. Pentland states that these ‘communication patterns’ were essential for a company to thrive and function effectively. As a result, the real influencers in an organisation are the network nodes: those who most often intersects with the most people, rather than some of those in the C-suite who are rarely seen mingling with their junior colleagues. 

5. Good working relationships are linked to profitability

A 2011 report found that companies with communication problems lost an average of $26,041 per employee per year. For corporations with 100,000 employees or more, this added up to $37 billion. Effective communicators on the other hand made 47% more money for their shareholders.

Encouraging good communication and relationships between coworkers is linked to profitability.‍

The way in which we work together has changed. But we think it does pay to know your coworkers. And we've built a tool to help.

Talk to us if you’d like to build a directory for your team.