1. Send a “confirmation of receipt” to coworkers’ emails on backlogged days.
It can be as simple as a single line of response: “Hey Jim, seeing your email. We’re closing in on the project deadline today, so I’ll get to this ASAP.” Bonus round? Add a timeframe for when your coworker can (realistically!) expect a response, and what you’ll do to respond: “I’ll take a look at this by tomorrow 4pm, before the meeting, and send you a few suggestions for revision.”
This seems like a small thing (or, on those really rushed days, a distracting time sink). But for your boss or overburdened coworker, it’s a concrete sign that you’re invested in your teamwork together; you’re showing them that they’re being heard, considered, and taken care of. Added benefit: it gives your supervisor or fellow employee a sense of the bigger picture — you’re working hard on a lot of things at once, and you’re exercising discipline in knocking out higher-priority tasks while still attending to your teammates’ needs.
2. Expand your water cooler conversation starters.
Everyone feels a little dead inside when their cubicle buddy strolls in the coffee room and drawls “So…any weekend plans?” on a Tuesday. The club isn’t blowin’ up today, Carl. OR IS IT.
View your water cooler moments as more than idle chat filled with stalling tactics and generalities. This is an opportunity to mention your passions and activities outside of your work so that you coworkers develop a stronger sense of you as an individual. Why should you care whether or not Carl knows about your passion for windsurfing? This adage: “Be kind to people on the way up; you just might meet them on the way down.”
If Carl feels like you’re actually invested in speaking to him as one person to another person, he’ll be far more likely to extend a helping hand when you’re screwed with too much work and ask for help; he’s more likely to agree to take on that closing shift when you ask if he can cover (because you have that pesky opening shift the next morning); he’s more likely to speak well of you casually, in passing, to other coworkers and your boss. Also…being friendly and engaged is just a good policy for living life fully.
These chats can also be a chance to plug your professionally-relevant skill set that you’re developing in a web coding night class, for example, or your copyediting side gig. Chat with Carl and snag a chance to make more money where you’re already working.
3. Invite a couple coworkers to eat lunch together.
This effort to stoke the embers of the esprit de corps amongst colleagues is not only a guaranteed way to make your 9-to-5 suck less, it’s also a way to put your money where your mouth is and engage with the company culture. Seeing a group of your professional peers (or superiors) interact with each other is a really good way to gauge the social norms of your office: how formal or informal people generally are, which department of the company is communicating the most effectively or ineffectively. It’ll also give you a sense of which behaviors are rewarded or discouraged inside the office.
One tip: if people start gossiping about a coworker, don’t pitch in. Let them talk their talk, but don’t fan the flames. Gossiping is nasty thing to engage in — on a life level: we’re not in middle school anymore, Dorothy — but it can also backfire professionally. Some of the gossipers may be close with the person under scrutiny, or secretly threatened by you; I’ve heard of people “ratting” on gossipers and making sure to name names when relaying gossip back to the person under discussion.
4. Put a small candy bowl on your desk.
I did this at one of my office jobs, and I was amazed at A) how quickly word spread that there were chocolate-covered coffee beans at my desk, and B) how many more spontaneous visit and little chats I got with coworkers, and C) how frequently some greedy lil’ piggies would come back for generous helpings of seconds or thirds in a single day. Word to the wise: don’t buy expensive candy (at most, a discount variety pack of mini-Snickers and Goodie Bars), don’t put out more than a modest handful of goodies per day, and don’t broadcast your candy bowl. People will find out, trust me.
That caveat aside, this gesture of goodwill and generosity (and magnet for improved “water cooler” conversations) can add a lot of variety to your day, a lot more personal interaction with coworkers, and a higher-profile reputation at the office as someone who’s looking out for the whole office.
5. Include bullet points, numbered lists, and clear “next steps” in your emails.
I’m Type A, so I did this without thinking too much of it. I heard later — through a friendly coworker, whom I’d invited to lunch — that one of the senior editors at the office had pulled up my email and used it as an example of the high standard of communication everyone should be aiming for at the office. I really, really admired the work of this editor. To this day, I count that moment (which I didn’t even witness first-hand) as a treasured professional victory and moment of learning.
Everyone is always flooded with email. If you’re able to impose a visually-clear structure on your own communication people are way more likely to read more thoroughly, respond in greater detail, and walk away from your correspondence with a stronger sense of accountability for the tasks or materials they need to provide as per your request.
6. Share interesting reads with closer coworkers.
Of course, there are a couple important things to keep in mind, here: A) You should have a strong sense of the company culture before you begin sending links for coworkers to read. See Number Three of this list. B) Your links should always be professionally relevant and personally appropriate; no NSFW pieces, or pieces that engage in inflammatory language or visuals to shock and bait clicks. Instead, make the professional interest of your article clear, with the note like “this could be an interesting angle to explore in our presentation.”
The basic principle? Respond in kind. When I worked in radio, the office culture was very convivial and casual. The senior staffers often included GIFs at the bottom of the more task-heavy, informational emails to lighten the mood and keep morale high. When I wrote my own “here’s five things we need to knock out by the end of the week” emails, I included silly GIFs at the bottom of my emails. People loved ’em. It was a chance to put my own sense of humor out there, show that I was excited to be in the office every day, and that I was adopting the social cues that my superiors were modeling for us.
7. Don’t be afraid to make jokes and laugh out loud at others’ jokes.
You already know this, right, but I have to say it: no racism, sexism, or sexual humor. (Also, I would hope that no one reading this article finds racism or sexism genuinely funny, let alone professionally appropriate). But a few silly words about a pop culture phenomenon that’s sweeping the news cycle, or a lighthearted allusion to the fact that the coffee machine has been broken for two weeks? Go for it. Be human. And don’t succumb to the pressure to button up entirely and bite your lip when someone makes a good joke; you can laugh at it. Out loud, yes. I know people will swivel in their office chairs and peek over their cubicle walls. So be it. They probably just want in on the joke!
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