Category Archives: BFFs and Work

Who Do You Talk To When You Work From Home?

Yesterday I had one of those gushy IM conversations with one of my co-workers about how grateful we are to have each other and our other work BFFs in the office. It went something like:

Me: Thank God we have each other.

Friend: Seriously. Can you imagine if one of us was all alone?

Me: Sad. If there is ever a time we don’t all work here, will you come work out of my living room? Pretty please?

Friend: Tempting. Not the worst idea in the world.

I know, I know. What a lovefest. Gross. But having friends at work is one of the largest contributors to happy employment, and I’ve been realizing this lately more than ever.

Why?

Because two days a week, I’m friendless.

Let me explain. These days, I work in an office only part-time. It’s a three-day-a-week gig. The other two days I work from my apartment, writing and pitching stories and working on my upcoming book. It’s an amazing setup, and I have no complaints. I’m lucky to have been allowed this flexible schedule.

There are some killer perks to working at home (ahem, writing in pajamas ‘til 4), but let me tell you, it can get real quiet in here. When Matt gets home at the end of the day I catch a wretched case of verbal diarrhea. Every thought I’ve had for the last 8ish hours comes pouring out because, give or take a conversation with my mother, I’ve had no social interaction all day. I actually talk to myself sometimes. Okay, a lot. It’s not good.

Lucky for me, after two days of isolation I get three days with my work pals. As one of them once told me “I try to be extra productive on Monday and Tuesday to make up for how much you talk to me on the other three days.” Oops.

But it’s true. After two days at home, I feel like I have so much to catch up on. Their weekends, the missed days in the office, How I Met Your Mother. I mean, there are important things to discuss.

There may come a time when I will work from home full-time. If I have kids one day—as I certainly hope to—I may choose that five-day-a-week writing from my living room provides the flexibility I need. But, woah. What would I do then? Five days of silence but for the hum of the dishwasher? As luxurious as that sounds, the idea of having no co-workers at all—no work besties—is a bit jarring. Who will I IM about the latest Popwatch post?

Having people to talk to during the weekday is necessary. It keeps me sane. My plan, if I do work from home one day, is to turn the living room into an office and force my co-worker friends to work from here. Problem solved.

But, on the off chance that doesn’t work, what do you suggest? Any work from home-ers out there?  Whether you’re a stay-at-home mom, a telecommuter, or a whatever other sweet gig lets you pass on a shower every now and then, you must have a strategy for dealing with the quiet of a home office. Suggestions?

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A Very Friendy Christmas

One of the biggest differences between this year and last has been the significant increase in holiday parties this time around. With new friends comes invitations, and I’ve been incredibly lucky to have a full social calendar this holiday season.

Last night was the seasonal gathering with my work BFFs. Five of us got together for dinner and a gift exchange.

The night went something like this:

5:45-6:45: Drive around Chicago with our host, picking everyone up so no one had to drive home and so everyone could drink.

7-8 PM: Appetizers, dinner, gossip.

8-9: Champagne and gift exchange. We did Secret Santas. It’s so much fun buying gifts for friends—when you know someone as well as we know each other (you learn a few things spending eight hours a day with people in a small space for three years) you can get them something you know they’ll really love. I got my Secret Santa a Young Adult book we’d been talking about recently, plus the debut album from Mark Salling aka Puck. (We really love Glee.)

I got three books I cannot wait to read (Room, Half a Life and Matched) plus a pinecone ball necklace (an inside joke referencing my general confusion regarding pinecone balls. A question for another day. But seriously, why would someone want a ball made out of pinecone?) Another friend got a collection of princess paraphernalia for our much-anticipated royal wedding viewing party. Another got a homemade calendar, and another got earrings and a jewelry holder from her favorite store.

“Why is it so much more fun to exchange gifts with friends than with family?” one coworker asked.

“Because friends actually know you!” said another. Amen.

9-11 PM: Glee Karaoke for Wii. That’s right. My voice is shot today because I sang Don’t Stop Believin’, Somebody to Love, My Life Would Suck Without You, No Air, Imagine, Leaving on a Jet Plane, True Colors, Say a Little Prayer For You, Hate on Me, Golddigger and Don’t Rain on My Parade at top volume.

“It’s really amazing you found people just like you,” my mom said when I told her about the holiday party plan. It’s true. Have a mentioned they put a lifesize High School Musical poster in my cubicle after I got married? It’s silly, ridiculous even, but it made me laugh.

And thus began my Christmas long weekend. How do you plan on celebrating the holidays with your friends? Any great gift ideas for your BFFs? (If you’re stumped may I suggest Glee Karaoke for Wii? It’s, like, seriously amazing.)

Happy Holidays to all… I’ll be taking Christmas Eve off, so see you Monday!

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A Man’s World

In all the time I’ve written about having work BFFs, I’ve taken for granted one vital piece of information: I work with almost all women.

Every job I’ve held has been in an office inhabited predominantly by females. Such is the blessing (and, sometimes, curse) of working in editorial. Well, maybe not if you work at Popular Mechanics. Or Esquire. Or Field & Stream. Or Playboy. But if you hope to make your living at a women’s magazine or website, you better not have a girl-hate-girl complex.

In a largely female environment, finding a work BFF—or at least an office ally—is almost inevitable. Us women, we like to team up. Our business styles are historically embodied by collaboration and consultation. This style lends itself towards establishing relationships.

But what happens when you work primarily with men? Such is the case for many of my friends in business and finance. They want a work BFF—recall that those who report having a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be engaged in their job and those with three close friends at work are 96% more likely to be extremely satisfied with their lives—but find it tougher to connect on a personal level with their male colleagues.

I haven’t experienced this firsthand. But one friend told me her problems befriending her male coworkers are twofold:

{Side note: Over the weekend I watched the Friends episode where Chandler is in a box. This is just now occurring to me because the reasons he is in there are “threefold.” I really do love that show.}

1. Her coworkers love to talk about sports and cars. When they aren’t talking about work, it’s the local football team or some fancy new car thing that I can’t even specify here because that’s how little I know about cars.

2. Whenever she does start having friendly banter with her male colleagues, it toes the line of flirtation.

Of course, not all men talk solely about sports and cars. And, again of course, some women would love to talk about sports and cars. It just so happens that my friend is not one of them.

It should also go without saying, even though I’m about to say it, that not all conversations between men and women have a flirtatious undertone. But certainly in some cases the flirty repartee can develop and quickly become problematic.

My friend finds both of these factors—the guy-talk and the flirting—frustrating, but she deals with it. (To be quite clear, there is no sexual harassment here, just chatter that some might classify as flirtatious.) When she can, my 28-year-old friend chooses to hang out with her one female coworker, a 22-year-old with whom she has more in common than her 30-something male counterparts.

I’m not sure how I’d handle making work friends in a predominantly male workplace. Do you work with mostly men? How do you navigate office friendships?

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Getting Down to Business

The question of mixing business with pleasure is not a new one. I’ve seen enough friendships go down the tubes due to business disagreements to believe that working with your BFFs is not a good plan. This is not to say that you can’t turn coworkers into friends (you can and you should) but I’m skeptical of making the transition in the opposite direction. As John D. Rockefeller said, “A friendship founded on business is better than a business founded on friendship.”

The friendship getting the most play in popular culture these days is one that proves my point: That of Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin. Most of you have probably heard of Zuckerberg—the 26-year-old founder and CEO of Facebook, and the youngest billionaire in the world. If you haven’t seen The Social Network you may be less familiar with Saverin, a co-founder of Facebook and, if the movie is to be believed, Zuckerberg’s ex-best friend.

According to the film, which is based on Ben Mezrich’s non-fiction book The Accidental Billionaires but which Facebook has called “fiction,” Zuckerberg and Saverin were BFFs whose relationship was torn apart when Zuckerberg decided to virtually shut Saverin out of the business’s future. The two had different ideas of what would make the website most successful.

It’s a great movie for plenty of reasons, not least of which is Aaron Sorkin’s rapid-fire dialogue. But from a friendship perspective, it was fascinating—and sort of terrifying—to watch the seemingly tight friendship deteriorate. There was no specific catalyst for the breakup, just a slow drifting apart that eventually exploded in one final, scandalous, Justin Timberlake-inspired blowup.

Personally, I’d lean against going into business with my friends not because I think any of them would screw me out of my entitled fortunes. For me it would be the concern that we wouldn’t be compatible co-workers, and that the residue from any work skirmishes would taint our real-life friendship. You see, my friends are mostly type-A go-getters. And so am I. And when you get together a group of people who all think their way is the right way, it can get a little dicey.

I love my college friends more than anything—they are the women who taught me what it means to have the friendships I’m now so desperately seeking—but I am not kidding when I say that deciding where to go to dinner can feel like we’re trying to come up with a diplomatic solution to the nuclear arms race. Everyone needs to be heard—which more often than not results in everyone talking over each other—and each of us has an opinion. Always. When we were sophomores, in an effort to decide where and with whom we would all live the following year, seven of us sat in a room for two hours voting on every possible permutation of living arrangements. The end result was fantastic, but it wasn’t the most efficient method of decision-making. My only memory of the meeting in Jenna’s dorm room is of wanting to shoot myself. Today, it’s one of our favorite jokes—“remember the permutations?!?”—but it was a mini-version of what could happen if our gang tried a business venture.

If you got a group of type-A strangers together with an organizational hierarchy in place, it would likely be the basis for solid business dealings. But throw ladies who’ve been friends for 10 years—meaning they treat each other more like sisters than coworkers—in a room, and make them all equal partners? Maybe it would go smoothly. But given how much I adore my friends, I’m not willing to risk it.

Have you ever gone into business with a close friend? How did it go? Do you think friends can be business parters? Why or why not?

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Filed under BFFs and Work, The Old Days

Business and Pleasure: A Study in Cultures

While on vacation last week, Matt and I toured of some of Croatia’s wine country. Perhaps you didn’t know such a thing exists. Well, it does! And the drink is delish! Between glasses of vino, I asked Mario, our tour guide, who he sold most of his wine to—could I buy it in a Croatian wine shop? Order it in a restaurant? How do people find his little vineyard on the Peljesac peninsula?

His response: “To me, wine is friendship. Wine is not business.” He gets together with all sorts of random folks, drinks a bottle or three, eats lunch and soon they become customers. No suits and Powerpoints, just a meal in which the wine flows as freely as the conversation.

Later in the week we met another tour guide, Ante, who owns a travel agency. Er, excuse me. A destination management company. “Tourism is my passion,” he said. “I must work with people I like. I won’t just do business with just anyone.”

Our American shtick is very “don’t mix business with pleasure,” whereas across the ocean the credo seems to be the opposite: make your pleasure your business.

I’ve only held two long-term jobs. I’ve made incredible friends at both—currently, I’ve got four work BFFs who I’m confident will be around long after my job isn’t. I made another of my closest friends at my NYC gig and she remains a confidante, travel advisor, and sounding board for all career-related decisions. But would I say my work is about friendship? No. Other than the fact that I write about it on this blog, of course. When it comes to my career, the jobs have always come first. The friendships followed.

Would I write for an editor I didn’t like? Absolutely. Have I? Of course. Friendship is not one of my pre-requisites to work with someone, not by a long shot. Getting to do what I love is the dream, working with someone I adore is a sweet bonus.

While it’s a treat to do business with pals, it can be prickly. I’ve seen more than one friendship end over prospective business ventures. When you invest time, money and passion into something and suddenly you’ve got an entirely different vision than your so-called partner, it can be hard to sever the professional ties and still salvage the relationship.

And plenty of friendships fall apart over promotions (or lack thereof). Office politics can be rough, and they don’t always leave much room for camaraderie. Not to mention the fact that until recently, companies generally discouraged fraternizing with coworkers.

I’m not sure who’s got the better philosophy: Us or the Croats. The two Croatian business owners seemed plenty happy, professionally and personally. But the possibility for fractured relationships looms large. Less so in my job-first, friendship-second career.

Are you a believer in mixing business with pleasure, or more about separating the personal and the professional? Got any stories of friends and work gone bad? Or better yet, gone good?

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Working Hard or Hardly Working

Last month, I wrote about how important it is to have friends at work. If you missed that post, and don’t feel like going back to check it out, let me sum it up: Very. But once we understand that, then what?

When I first started this blog, a few people mentioned their struggle with asking out a coworker. Taking the office friendship out of its natural habitat is tricky business.

Here are some tips I’ve gathered from my own experiences, and those of my friends:

1)    Start on a weekday. Weekends are precious, and people like to keep them free of workplace reminders. Until you’re a friend, not just a coworker, don’t infringe on the all-mighty Saturday.

2)    A few drinks helps. I know I’ll get flack for this, but the truth is that a glass of wine says “we’re not at work anymore.” It also helps part the looming clouds of professionalism. Loosens you up. This is not to say, obviously, that if you don’t drink you can’t have work friends outside of the office, or that your relationship will be based on alcohol. I’m just saying, throwing back a Miller Lite can help.

3) If there are a few of you that get along, plan a group outing. I’m lucky. I have four best work friends. And they’re not just co-workers I chat with. They’re, like, real-life BFF material. But it took us two years to get there. How did it start? With a group activity. We joined a fitness challenge and started taking Booty Beat classes together after work. Jealous? I know. A friend of mine told me her co-workers do a brunch outing every couple of months. Group activities lack the intensity of one-on-one time.

4) Text message. If you’re calling an officemate during off-hours, there’s a high likelihood your phone call will be screened. On a  Saturday night, the last thing a potential office BFF wants to do is to work, or talk about work, or think about work. If you text, “What are you up to? Want to meet up?” She’ll know you’re in the play hard stage.

5) Don’t talk shop. When you get together with a coworker, it’s natural that you’d discuss work. It’s the tie that binds you after all. But when you’re beyond Big Brother’s walls, try to avoid it if you can. At least keep it to a minimum. A little workplace gossip can be fun, but you’ll never build an independent relationship if you can’t get past office politics.

That’s all I got for now. What do you think? Anything I missed? Or that I got completely wrong?  Do you have a surefire way to transition from work-friend to life-friend?

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Why Everyone Needs a Work BFF

In the past 24 hours, two people have suggested I address the always tricky issue of office friendships. There is so much to say about this: Do we even want office BFFs? How do you take a workplace friendship to the next level? What happens when you don’t work together anymore—can the friendship survive? I think about this a lot because (aside from the fact that I think about all BFF-related issues a lot) the office is the grown-up version of the sandbox or summer camp. It’s the only natural breeding ground for friends once you’re out of school, and given the sheer number of hours Americans spend at the office each week, our coworkers are like family, for better or for worse.

So, for now, I’ll start with question one: Do we even want office friendships?

“Don’t mix business with pleasure” used to be the way of the world.  Companies discouraged employees from “fraternizing” (such business jargon)… God forbid their water cooler talk take away from the number crunching. These days, however, I think most office workers have at least one on-the-job BFF. There are plenty of reasons why this could be the case. Clearly, as the amount of time we spend in the office increases, our exposure to potential friends outside the workplace decreases. Worker bees today (or the ones aged, perhaps, 20-50) are so plugged in to social networks that the lines distinguishing work from life have blurred quite a bit. Plus, there are so many more distractions these days – Perez, YouTube, Facebook – that we need someone to turn to, like now, when the breaking news of Jon and Kate’s split hits People.com.

But here’s what’s really fascinating: According to Tom Rath’s Vital Friends: The People You Can’t Afford to Live Without, people who report having a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be engaged in their job. (This is based on more than 8 million responses to a Gallup poll about office friendships.) According to the book research, which was published in 2006, only 30% of employees reported having a work BFF, but those who didn’t basically had no chance of feeling engaged during the workday.

This is especially interesting to me because I have not one but four office BFFs. Ours is a merry little gang – we get lunch together everyday, gather around the coffeepot (me with Diet Coke in hand) every morning for TV recaps, and obnoxiously decorate cubicles when one of us gets married (I now sit in front of a life size High School Musical poster). I could—and likely will—write an entire ode to The Transformers (that’s what we call ourselves… a discussion for another time), as they are not just my work BFFs but probably my closest friends in Chicago. After all, I started at my office not long after I moved out here, so they are the people I know best and certainly the ones I spend the most time with. But does having four best friends at work mean I am 28 times more engaged in my job? Debatable.

Rath’s research does say that people with at least three close friends at work are 96% more likely to be extremely satisfied with their lives. It’s hard for me to say whether or not this applies to me, since I’ve never experienced my job without the work friends. But if someone were to ask me if I’m extremely satisfied with my life, the answer would be yes, BFF not withstanding. When this search is over and I have a new BFF or four, then I will be super-extremely satisfied.

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Filed under BFFs and Work, The Hard Facts