The boundary between the responsibilities of the employer and the personal life of an employee may sometimes feel quite blurry.

This is certainly the case when it comes to friendships.

The idea of encouraging your team to all be friends may feel like you’ve gone back to primary school and are trying to make sure everyone in the class gets invited to the birthday party.

But while there’s no obligation on organisations to make sure that everyone is getting along, the company that neglects to think about this is making a crucial error.

People are ten times more likely to stay in a job for friendships than a pay rise, according to a survey of 1,000 employees by Eko. Far from being a fluffy nice-to-have, friendships between colleagues are actually crucial for retention and, by extension, cost saving.

This becomes an even greater challenge in the world of remote or hybrid work, where employees are likely to spend less time casually interacting with their colleagues (RIP watercooler). This is exacerbated by the fact that many people changed jobs during the pandemic and have never met their colleagues in person.

As a fully remote team of about 40 odd, scattered across the UK, USA and Sweden - not to mention the folks on various workations - this is something we’ve had to give a lot of thought to.

So here’s our four top tips to facilitate socialising - which will in time hopefully lead to those coveted work friendships.

Lead from the top

If a picture paints a thousand words, a leader modelling behaviour is worth a thousand LinkedIn posts.

Leaders need to set the tone and make it acceptable to take time to connect as people before getting down to business.

One key way leaders can do this is by establishing a precedent where the first few minutes of every call is spent on small (or even medium) talk. It may be tempting to press on with the issue at hand but without those watercooler moments it’s crucial to make the most of any face-to-face time.

Encourage in-person where possible

No doubt some mathematical genius is working out the exact ratio of the value of in real life to remote socialising. Regardless of the exact figures, we all know in-person conversations just seem to count for more. You can get far more ground covered, you have all those little moments in between meetings, you can read body language - and you aren’t subtly (at least in your mind) trying to respond to a Teams message without anyone realising you are typing.

Maybe it’s an evolutionary thing - we’ve had hundreds of thousands of years of communicating in real life - and our ape brains still can’t get around the fact that you can talk to someone on a screen when they aren’t there. Heck, remote synchronous communication full stop is a relatively new invention - after all, the telephone was invented barely over 150 years ago.

For all these reasons it’s worth making the most of any opportunities to get people to connect in person. This doesn’t have to be anything particularly fancy: even just scheduling some post-work drinks once a month will help to get people into the office and make it part of their routine.

People will be willing to meet you halfway on this as there’s a huge demand for colleagues to meet in person. We’ve seen this demand ourselves and as a result we made it possible for people to share their working location with their colleagues, making it even easier for people to connect without the headache of coordination.

Remember external connection is also a force for good

For those people who don’t have colleagues near them, you can still ensure that they are making in-person connections. Giving them access to a coworking space through a membership or a platform like Desana will enable them to make friends with people from different companies.

Some employers might find this idea a bit concerning (what if they find someone they like more than us?) but the positive benefits will accrue to the organisation, as the warm fuzzy feelings of connections become associated with their work.

Make remote socials part of your schedule

At the same time, ensure that there are opportunities for remote connection and socialising internally. Again, this doesn’t need to be extravagant - a group remote baking session hosted by a Bake Off winner would, no doubt, be a lot of fun. But scheduling fortnightly social calls or using a tool like donut which pairs people up for a virtual coffee and a chat is less splashy but more consistent - and therefore more effective.

Remember the importance of asynchronous communication too - encourage the use of chat channels so that people can engage with each other at a time that suits them.

Don’t forget the introverts

We’ve all been on those group calls where two people are talking and 20 other people are listening in.

Make sure that everyone is getting the opportunity to hear and be heard. That might mean taking a slightly more structured approach to social calls (organised fun, hurray!) or breaking them down into smaller groups. It might mean having a call facilitator or posing specific questions on a chat that everyone can get involved in. In larger calls normalise the use of the chat function to ensure that everyone can contribute to the conversation in a way they feel comfortable with.

Socialising may not seem like a priority especially at those times when work is busy. But by taking small amounts of time each day to make time to connect you consolidate relationships and build friendships, creating stronger, more committed teams.

Taking socialising that one step further? Here’s our tips for running an offsite.