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Career Corner: The Big Deal About Small Talk

By Angela Copeland

If you’re working from home, you may be as productive as ever. You can focus without interruption. There are no long chats around the water cooler. There’s no wasted time commuting. You can wake up and get straight to work. There’s a good chance you may be skipping breaks and lunch. You’ve started to find your work from home groove.

But one thing we’re definitely doing less of at work is small talk. When is the last time you asked about a colleague’s weekend? How are their children doing? How is the pandemic impacting them from day to day? When is the last time you had lunch with someone you work with? If you’re like millions of Americans, it’s been a while. It may have even been since early March.

On the surface, this is no big deal. You’re saving time. You’re more efficient and work is about work. Right? Sure, to some degree this is true, but work is also about relationships. In fact, very often, your project may get done on time if you have a good relationship with your colleagues.

And, the thing is, relationships don’t form out of spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations alone. They are formed when we spend time together. They’re formed between meetings. They’re those small moments when we exchange pleasant words that are unrelated to work. Relationships form over sandwiches and coffee.

If you’re struggling at work more now than you were before COVID, it may be time to rethink your day to day interactions. The same social distancing that’s keeping us safe from disease is also dividing us. We’re more disconnected than we were in the past, especially when working from home is new.  

What can you do? Unfortunately, there’s no perfect solution, but there are many ideas you can try. You may want to take the time to call colleagues when you don’t need something specific or take a moment in the beginning of meetings to ask how folks are doing. Consider setting up virtual social occasions. You might organize a coffee or a virtual happy hour with a colleague. You could consider organizing a book club or a virtual exercise group. Although some of these things may sound silly, they’re also a way to create connection and build your relationships.

As you’re working to create this connection, there is something to keep in mind. First, everyone is having a tough time in some way, on some days. Every person is in a unique situation, so it’s hard to predict when they’re having a tough time. When your coworker is having a difficult day, it will be harder to tell than when you are in person. Try your best to be patient.

It’s all a little weird right now. But, we may be working from home for a while. It’s time to find new and different ways to make small talk and to build big relationships.

Angela Copeland, a career expert and founder of Copeland Coaching, can be reached at copelandcoaching.com.

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