75

About a month ago, I started work as a software developer in an office of about 50 people, as part of a team of eight. Most of the team sits in cubicles in a section off to one side of the office; however, when I joined, there were no open desks in the area, so I was placed elsewhere, on the other side of the room.

I've come to like my location--it's quiet, and has started to feel like "my" space. But, because of the distance, I've only really spoken with my teammates when a question or problem has caused one of them to come to me, or me to go to them.

Recently, my team leader reminded me in an email that relationships between team members are important. He asked me to "make an effort to stop by sometime to talk to other people in the team as well."

I understand his concerns, but I'm not sure how to follow his suggestion without being a nuisance to my teammates. We all have work to do, and interrupting them just to chat doesn't seem like a respectful use of their time.

How can I build and maintain friendly relationships with my teammates when they all sit together, but I sit far away?

To specify, "far away" means about thirty seconds of walking across the office.

  • 22
    You should colocate with your team. While there are some steps to partially mitigate this, you should firstly try to join your team. – Nathan Cooper Nov 16 '15 at 14:38
  • 8
    It's weird that your team lead doesn't understand this is tantamount to adding another project for you to do. – user42272 Nov 16 '15 at 14:42
  • 12
    Can you join your team members when some go for coffee or lunch or things like that? – Eric Renouf Nov 16 '15 at 15:01
  • 15
    If they aren't inviting you to lunch or happy hour, then you need to be the one to initiate and invite them. – David K Nov 16 '15 at 15:32
  • 6
    How do they socialize among themselves without interrupting each other? – user8365 Nov 16 '15 at 19:55
97

The solution to your problem is to move your working space close to theirs. This is probably your team leads job to organize.

Until then, you should try to come into contact with them more:

At the start of the day, show up to greet them. A friendly "hello, good morning" each morning reminds them that you are indeed part of the team. Maybe you colleagues will find something to talk about while you are stopping by, maybe not. Either way, they know you are present, even if you are a few cubicles away.

At the end of the day, stop by and wish them whatever is appropriate where you live. "See you tomorrow" will probably work. Maybe someone will remember something he wanted to tell or ask you the whole day. Maybe not.

If you have lunch breaks, have them together. Ask them where they go for lunch and ask to join them once in a while.

If they have smoke breaks, join them. You don't need to smoke. Bring a coffee or your favorite treat or just the desire to breath some real air (yeah, joining the smokers for fresh air is one of those first world problems). Chat about anything.

Even if you are physically apart, make sure they know you are there and join them wherever they socialize. Their desks is probably not their favorite socializing place either, if only for the fact that your team lead is watching.


And if you really want to make friends with IT people, there is no faster way than buying them. Buy a box of treats, preferably a large one, for example 2 pounds of gummy bears. Put them on your desk openly and write a mail that everyone can help themselves. Then duck and cover :)

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  • 33
    +1, particularly for the food tip, it always works very very well! Also, if your team organizes happy hours sometimes (ie, where drinks are offered to everyone), you can volunteer to buy the next round of drinks. Then choose whatever is the most common/appropriate in your local culture (usually beer is always a good choice). – gaborous Nov 16 '15 at 18:28
  • 13
    Regarding the gummy bears: good idea, just don't buy the sugar-free variety. – user16626 Nov 17 '15 at 2:47
  • 10
    One note with the candy - it's good to either have individually wrapped stuff or some sort of a closed dispenser (like a little desktop-sized gumball machine). Your clean conscious coworkers will thank you. – chucksmash Nov 17 '15 at 3:59
  • 3
    I've accidentally had a jar of peppermints cause too much attention for my own good. Cheap, individually wrapped, low-calorie, and everyone seems to love them more than they'd like to admit. Also, they help the occasional coffee breath that can be a problem for some people. (Plus I hate them, so I wasn't tempted to eat them all myself) – thanby Nov 17 '15 at 12:56
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    @thanby The idea of having a treat I don't like clinched it, I think. If I had gummy bears, I would just devour them and hate myself by lunchtime! – Lucas Y. Nov 17 '15 at 14:12
20

I'd like to offer my own answer, which is probably a combination of what the others have written. In my opinion the blend is important.

1) Moving locations

It's unfortunate that you are so far away from your team. Moving your work space, as some have suggested, is typically not within your power. Where you sit is often very political in a company. You can try asking your team-leader to relocate you, but he would probably do that if he could. You're going to need to get around that.

2) Breaching the gap

Randomly walking over, as you've pointed out, is probably a bad idea. However, what about during lunch? Does everyone eat at their desks? Do they ever go out together, or alone?

I would start sending e-mails about an hour or so before lunch. There are several ways you could approach this:

Hey guys, I'm eating my lunch in the break-room, I'd welcome any company, since we rarely get to speak!

And keep eating your lunch in the staff room, which makes you approachable to them. Eventually they will reciprocate/join you.

Hey guys, I'm going out to grab a sandwich/pizza/chinese. Anyone else wanna join me? Other suggestions are welcomed.

This opens the door to them similarly inviting you when THEY go out. Offer to drive to sweeten the deal, if applicable.

Hi everyone, since we rarely get to talk, I was thinking that we could organize a team lunch this Friday! How would you guys like to go out to "x"?

Going out to lunch and possibly grabbing a drink together is probably the best way to socialize, but it will depend on the company whether this will actually happen or not. If having a drink during lunch if "verboten", then maybe suggest Friday after work instead.

3) Friendly gestures

I would also suggest bringing in some snacks for your team once or twice to "break the ice". Here in Canada I would, for example, recommend getting a box of tim-bits (cheap and yummi, I don't think I know a single person who would refuse one) and offering it to them. You may want to offer something more appropriate to your location - even a cheap box of cookies.

Hey guys, just wanted to come over and say hello. I was in the store this morning getting my coffee, and I thought everyone might like to start their day with a cookie! (hand some out to everyone and invite them to come to your desk to have more if they want!)

4) Keep going

Once you've connected with people and learn a little bit about them it's going to become a lot more acceptable for you to walk over and just chat for a little bit - especially when you know what they like to talk about.

Similarly, you may invite them to drop in every once in a while and "pick your brain", or just have a friendly chat.

Remember that if you sit in your corner and don't make a move you are sending a message that you are anti-social. If they are equally shy in approaching you then you need to take these steps pronto.

Please note that in a way I blame your team-leader for this situation. He is the one that should be facilitating your integration into the team, not pushing you to take these steps yourself (although they are certainly not a bad idea).

Good luck!

  • 2
    +1 Also, don't be too deterred by anyone who doesn't engage back. Most of these actions would make me somewhere between indifferent (e.g., I can't have cookies) and annoyed (I prefer to lunch alone so I can recharge my emotional bank account), but I don't socialize very well in most situations. There may be someone like me on the team, just let them be antisocial. Probably there isn't, or else the team lead would be telling them they need to socialize more. – Todd Wilcox Nov 16 '15 at 16:48
  • 3
    @Todd - the whole idea is simply to open avenues and make himself approachable. At that point, even if nothing comes of it, at least he can say he tried, and no one will be able to make him out to be antisocial, or a problem employee. It's all about perception. – AndreiROM Nov 16 '15 at 17:05
  • I feel that #2 can come across as rather needy and out of tune. I'd say it's safer to just ask the team what they normally do for lunch and join them rather than inviting an established circle to potentially break pattern by joining you. It could be as simple as asking a colleague you're close(r) with to drop you an mail or IM to announce when the team's heading for lunch. – Lilienthal Nov 17 '15 at 15:08
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    @Lilienthal - I think that interpretation is more a matter or pride. Personally, I see it as opening yourself up - becoming approachable. For example, many people say that "they never meet anyone", yet never go out and socialize. I think that this is along the same lines. By inviting people to join you you demonstrate a willingness to socialize, and thus they will start considering inviting you out with them. It's Socializing 101. Also, the OP needs to take some serious steps after failing to integrate with the team over the past EIGHT MONTHS. – AndreiROM Nov 17 '15 at 15:18
  • 1
    @Lilienthal, to me #2 can be done, not just maybe too often. Depends probably on the sentiments expressed (by OP and by his colleagues) when e.g. OP asks them for lunch. It does not have to sound "needy" at all, esp. if not done too often. But it was still good to mention it as well. – user100487 Nov 18 '15 at 13:42
8

It has been my experience that isolation from one's team always leads to trouble, from simply not knowing what's going on, to actually being let go. I worked for a company where my co-worker (my best friend) attended all the meetings while I wrote the needed code. Come layoffs I was released while he was retained. Even more frustrating, when he became manager 7 years later and re-hired me onto the team, the company was still running my code unchanged. My contribution had been valued, but I wasn't. Go join your team!

5

All the existing answers seem to be addressing some parts of your concerns, but none of them appear to directly address this one:

I understand his concerns, but I'm not sure how to follow his suggestion without being a nuisance to my teammates. We all have work to do, and interrupting them just to chat doesn't seem like a respectful use of their time.

However, that seems easiest to fix: you openly admit the problem of lack of connectivity to your teammates (you may clarify that the suggestion came from the boss but I'm not sure that's needed or even good idea), and ask for their opinion of when coming to talk to them is best for them in terms of minimizing interruptions.

You need to phrase it carefully, so that the emphasis is on you trying to avoid causing issues for them, and not like a complaint from you. If you do, they will be impressed with your considerateness, which will earn you cookie points in their minds - AND hopefully will tell you what the good solution timewise is for socialization.

4

I actually had a similar problem when I started my current job. I was placed not too far away but the other side of the office away from the rest of my team where I would have to get up and walk over to talk to them. It takes a little extra time and finesse but you can still socialize with your team by picking your times well.

We have a messaging service that we use in house which already helps with being able to send a message and let someone answer it on their own time so now the distance isn't an issue and it's less likely to bother someone.

Secondly though and probably more applicable is that there are certain times of day that make it easy to start conversations. When people first get in and they're grabbing their coffee is a great time to ask how someone's weekend was or how a project is going, maybe what they have planned for lunch. From there the next easy time of day is lunch itself either talking to colleagues on their way somewhere or ideally eating lunch with them from time to time. Lastly end of the day you can usually see what people have planned for the evening, how work went, etc.

You'll have to start with these smaller conversations at times when you know people have the time to talk then from there it becomes much easier to have a dialog during the day. Once you know your co-workers and what they have going on in their lives it's a lot easier to ask Joe how his kids did with that tournament over the weekend or how Jill's golf game went yesterday in between asking those work related questions. Then hopefully from there it won't be too long until you're moved closer to your team making all of this even easier.

4

Two thoughts came to mind when I read the question and the circumstances.

  1. Does this person want to socialize? - Not everyone wants to be buddy-buddy with their co-workers.
  2. Is it really the job of the co-worker to build relationships between team members? - I personally believe that the team leader is the one who needs to take the lead on team building and socialization.

On the second point, maybe you should discuss your concerns with your team leader, and ask him/her about them organizing situations where you will be able to socialize with your co-workers without being a nuisance. A company paid lunch or outing like bowling, might be options. In this story, I dislike that there is so much onus on the outsider to be the one to make the effort to fit in, vs the group, or group leader, doing something to make the outsider feel welcome. It almost seems like your team leader is pushing some of their responsibilities onto you, rather then them making an effort to help you get more integrated with the other people.

  • 1
    I would partially disagree with your second point. While it is certainly the job of the team leader to introduce a person to the project, make the outsider welcome and provide opportunities for team building and socialization, it is in the best interest of every team member to build relationships with other team members. It is often hard to start in a new workplace but a positive attitude helps. As do gummy bears. And cookies. – Peter S. Nov 17 '15 at 17:15
  • If that's true, then everyone on the team should have received the same email from the team leader about how relationships between co-workers were important. It's not clear that everyone received the same email, but given the wording of the question it seems more likely that this was not the case. – user70848 Nov 17 '15 at 19:53
  • 1
    On the one hand, why use email for something people should already know? On the other hand, this is precisely something that should not be directed and orchestrated from above but rather spontaneously encouraged in daily, ordinary, face-to-face communication (as well as the occasional team-building events). – Peter S. Nov 18 '15 at 9:01
  • That is true, it seems pretty obvious - but the team leader is the one who started it and should be the one who is making the example. In addition, if this person does not socialize to the satisfaction of the team leader, then this email, which has only been sent to one person, can be used to single this employee out as someone that is not a "team player". – user70848 Nov 18 '15 at 19:18
3

As has been mentioned:

  • Pushing to get your desk moved would be best, if possible.

  • Joining your friends for lunch would be a good move. You might need to ask them to join you, rather than the other way around.

But here's another suggestion I don't think anyone has brought up:

If your workplace allows Skype or something similar, you can chat with your colleagues from your desk.

I have friends that work on the floor above me that are involved in a lot of our group discussions because they are in the Skype room with us.

  • 1
    +1 for the chat suggestion. Our department here is spread over two buildings and several floors. We set up a Jabber server where everyone in the group can join. It's not a must. There is an open rooster where you can see who is present, and a common room for chatter, which is also used for the occasional lunch-time pizza organization. The chat is used for work-related and other exchange. I also like to create project-related group chats to discuss current topics within my team. But I still would give highest importance to the other solutions: moving closer and having lunch together. – Dubu Nov 17 '15 at 15:45
1

This is your team lead's problem. This is not your problem.

As it stands you do not have the resources to effectively do this part of your job. It seems pretty clear to me that interrupting your day to spend a minute walking, and hopefully have a conversation that isn't just a back-and-forth of "Hi, how's it going?" isn't tenable. You should trust me :) and not your team lead that this is not tenable, and you are right to have a gut reaction that you shouldn't even bother taking the time to struggle with this.

Raise these concerns to your team lead. Then ignore your team lead and wait for them to figure out they need to solve the problem, while you get your work done in the mean time.

My guess is the outcome will be your team lead will put pressure on facilities or management, and within probably a couple months or so there will be a chance for space to open up and you'll take it. But this only happens if the team lead understand it's their problem to solve.

  • 2
    Ignoring the team lead may also be a great way to not be there a couple of months down the road. – nvoigt Nov 16 '15 at 15:07
  • Sure, the team leader should have taken steps to hep integrate him into the team, but the current situation is very much "his problem", especially if the team leader makes it so. As @nvoigt pointed out, continuing down this path, or attempting to shift blame on the team leader is a good way to get booted. Your advice is very confrontational and passive aggressive. I highly advise against those actions in pretty much any office situation. This sort of behavior marks you out as a problem employee, and immature to boot. – AndreiROM Nov 16 '15 at 15:36
  • 1
    @AndreiROM is it confrontational or is it passive aggressive? Those are, literally, opposites. – user42272 Nov 16 '15 at 15:41
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    @djechlin - you're right. I do stand by my comment however, in that trying to "ignore the problem", or shift the onus on your team-leader is asking for it. Also, in my comment I use "you" in the general sense, and not at all as an attack on you, so please don't feel offended. – AndreiROM Nov 16 '15 at 15:43
  • 1
    @ToddWilcox "Raise these concerns to your team lead," then "ignore your team lead and wait." That's what I believe the OP should do to fix this. You may disagree with my answer which is fine, but this sort of advice is certainly germane - there are many great answers on workplace.SE that amount to "this is not your problem, do nothing." – user42272 Nov 16 '15 at 20:03
1

One other thing to bear in mind - the others are already socializing because of their co-location. While I agree you don't want to interrupt when they are deep in concentration, they already spend some time chatting (or location wouldn't matter). It may even be that at times they would welcome a distraction.

Unless you have to open a door or intrude fully onto their space to see if they are occupied or not, then you can go over and then make a judgement call on whether to chat or not. I'm sure you have to move around at times (getting coffee or water, papers from the printer, etc). At those times, angling past their desks gives you a chance to connect, even if it is the long way round and you just say "hi" as you pass.

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