Weekly Editorial

The Social Importance of The Office is Often Ignored

Written By Rob Kirkbride, Write Office • December 5, 2022

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When people speak and write about the importance of the office, it is often in clinical terms. They expound on the ideas of productivity, collaboration, ideation and efficiency — all important, but not exactly things that get workers excited about heading back to the office.

Rarely discussed is the social importance of the office. Offices are part of the glue that literally holds society together. It is where we meet to work, yes, but it is also where we come to be playful and to make meaningful connections to our coworkers, who often become our friends — and more.

Work is where a fair number of us (myself included) find a spouse. Today, nearly 1 in 10 workers said they met their spouse at work, down from 1 in 5 in the 1990s, thanks in large part to the internet and online dating, but still a significant number.

According to an Olivet University study, 82% of us work with someone we consider a friend. The average person has five friends at work. And 30% of those asked consider one of their work friends their “best friend.”

Home office workers have, according to the study, three work friends compared to those working at workstations or open floorplans in an office who have six work friends. This social connection seems to be strongest at both ends of the age spectrum. People who are older than 40 say they want more work friends than they have while the youngest generation of workers simply want to experience it for themselves after prolonged work-from-home schemes.

The social aspect of work is more important than you might think and in ways you might not realize. Consider: 10% of those polled have left jobs because a friend left and 59% have recruited friends to work at your company. That means friendships help in job retention and recruitment as well.

Our social life at work adds to our social life outside the office. More than 62% of respondents said they spend time with work friends outside work, 53% said their work friends have met their non-work friends and 69% said they have introduced work friends to their partners and significant others.

I was a 20-something reporter working at The Community Crier newspaper in Plymouth, Mich. when I met my future wife, Stephanie, who was the art director. We spent long hours working together at the small newspaper in Southeast Michigan and soon realized we had more in common than just ink and headlines. We’ve been married 27 years.

I went on to work at the Ann Arbor News and Grand Rapids Press and still have friends from those jobs as well. In fact, I bowl on Tuesdays with a group of former Press editors, reporters and photographers that I met on the job. We still get together every week even though most of us haven’t worked at the paper in 20+ years.

I mention all this because I ran across a story in the New York Times last week with the headline: “These Young Workers Are ‘Romanticizing’ the Return to Office,” which explains that even though a vocal few are chaffing about return to the office plans, many, including young people who were hired during the pandemic and have never met their coworkers, are hoping that changes.

“I’ve heard my friends tell me they started coming into the office more after they’ve seen that it’s really fun and pretty productive and you can meet people during the day,” said Alison Chen, 23, who had some experience going into an office for internships she had in college before Covid. When she moved a year and a half ago to San Francisco for a new job as a product designer at Microsoft, a city where she didn’t know anyone, the office helped her make friends, she said.

The office is important for so many reasons. Socializing is just one of them.

Socializing at the office is so important it has its own term — water cooler talk — which refers to the casual conversations people in the office have with one another when they are visiting the water cooler or coffee pot. It is where we talk about work, yes, but it is also where we learn about a new series on Netflix, chat about the latest Detroit Lions loss and civilly discuss politics.

So the next time a customer tells you they can work from home just as well as they work from the office, show them this column and ask them where they met their partner and their friends. Chances are it was at the office. And connecting with people in such a meaningful way is much, much more difficult to do on a Zoom call than it is in person.

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