You probably already spend 40+ hours a week with co-workers, but connecting with them outside of business hours can improve on-the-job collaboration. In fact, 64% of executives polled by The Creative Group said employees who socialize outside of the office enjoy more productive working relationships.
Keep in mind that “connecting” means more than extending an invitation to join your LinkedIn network. Whether it’s a company picnic or informal get-together, spending time in person with fellow designers is an excellent way to build camaraderie.
Following are some ways to make the most of social gatherings:
Step outside your comfort zone. If you’re somewhat on the reserved side, you may be tempted to stick by co-workers you know best in social situations. But it’s a good idea to strike up conversations with people outside of your usual circle, whether it’s your creative director or the CEO.
Admittedly, it can be daunting to start a conversation with company executives, so come prepared: If you’re approaching someone who has never met you, introduce yourself and give a 30-second description of what you do for the organization. Also think of a few non-work conversation starters, such as vacation plans or recent movies they’ve seen.
Don’t monopolize anyone’s time. Be sensitive to the fact that people likely have a number of individuals they want to chat with during an event, so avoid extended conversation. And because ending a discussion can be as awkward as initiating one, be prepared to make a graceful exit: When you’re ready to move on, or there’s a natural pause in the conversation, say something simple like, “Alex, it’s been great chatting with you. Now, I’m going to check out the buffet table. I’ll see you tomorrow at work.”
Limit libations. If alcohol is offered, limit your intake to just one or two drinks. That way, you’ll be sure to remain professional — and not end up featured in a YouTube video titled, “My Drunk Co-worker Rocks the Chicken Dance!” As most of us know, too many drinks can easily lead to inappropriate behavior, which can damage your credibility even if you’re not at work. Don’t be one of those employees who wakes up the next day thinking, “I can’t believe I said (or did) that!
Don’t be a wet blanket. It may be tempting to vent to your co-worker about how another team is holding up your project, but you never know who might overhear your remarks. Instead, save your complaints for your friends and family. And never let it show if you’re not having a good time at a work gathering.
Take pictures. Snapping photos is a great way to break the ice at an event. Even better, you can share the pictures afterward, both with people you know and also those you’ve just met, to begin nurturing the relationship. Just be sure to exercise good judgment and don’t post any photographs of colleagues in unflattering situations.
What do you do if your firm doesn’t plan social activities? Do it yourself. Gatherings don’t have to be elaborate or expensive to be fun. Here are some ideas:
- Create a contest: Who can design a bird house within a $5 budget? Get managers involved to judge the final products. Exercises like this can encourage idea generation.
- “Chow mein Mondays” or “Taco Tuesdays” are easy ways for busy workers to meet off-site for lunch and catch up on a casual, relaxed basis.
- Each month, have a different team member come up with 10 questions about his or her favorite subject or hobby to ask the team, and later provide the correct answers. It’s a fun — and free — way to learn about your colleagues’ interests.
Finally, even if you don’t relish the prospect of company outings, make sure you participate in at least a few gatherings throughout the year to get to know your co-workers and reap the many benefits, from new ideas to improved camaraderie.
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