How to Turn a Work Friend Into a Real Friend

for an article about making a work friend, image of two people at work laughing sitting at desks with computers

When I look back on high school and college, it seemed like I made a new friend every time I walked into a room. It was just so easy back then! I was surrounded by like-minded people my age who all wanted similar things — to hang out and have fun. Fast forward to my first year of “adulting.” Some friends moved to different cities, some went off to grad school, and others just worked full-time and had busy lives. I found myself wondering, how do adults make new friends? Do adults make new friends, beyond water cooler small talk?

RELATED: Making Friends After College (and Beyond)

Thankfully, my first job out of college proved my worries wrong. Even though I’ve since moved on from that organization, I’ve held onto a few of those friendships and keep in touch with them to this day. The transition from work-wife to real-life didn’t happen overnight, and took time and effort, as all relationships do. Read on for my tips for turning an office buddy into an IRL friend!

Make small efforts to share things about your personal life

Monday mornings are the best time to grow a work friendship. Seriously. When I first started my job, and colleagues asked how my weekend was, I found it tempting to respond with something vague like “Good! Way too short. How about you?” I was nervous, shy, and convinced myself they only asked to be polite. As you can imagine, it was hard to make friends this way. 

After a few weeks, I resolved to push through my insecurities and answer truthfully about what I did that weekend. It’s a low-stakes way to share details about your life that wouldn’t come up during a work-related conversation. Things like my holiday trip to Paris, love of fitness classes, and Taylor Swift obsession have all come up during weekend-talk at work. You might end up surprised at what “real-world” common ground you find with colleagues. Just by chatting with my office-mate about Sunday brunch, we discovered we had a mutual friend in common!

Over time, I was able to build a rapport with my work friends that easily translated to my non-professional life. We came to learn about each other’s friends, families, love-lives, travel plans, and more — just through some Monday morning conversations over instant oatmeal and office coffee.

Spend time with them outside of the office

While it’s great to drop by your colleague’s desk or chat in the breakroom, spending time outside of work is where your friendship can really grow. Pick up lunch or coffee together, run a quick errand at Duane Reade, or go for a short walk around the block when it’s nice out. My first job had a Van Leeuwen’s ice cream shop right around the corner (dangerous, I know). On warm days, my work pal and I would go grab a quick scoop to hang out and connect outside of our high-pressure work environment. Those are some of my favorite memories from that job, and definitely set the groundwork for our IRL-friendship! 

As your friendship grows, start branching out to activities that are totally unassociated with work. Try a new workout class together, meet at the Farmer’s Market on a Saturday morning, or grab sandwiches at that cool place you both saw on Instagram. By sharing experiences that are not associated with work, you are building a relationship that doesn’t need your 9-5 (or the water cooler) to survive! 

Leave work at work

This is how you can really bridge the gap between an office pal and a true real-life friend. After a month or two at my job, Sunday night boredom led to me finding my colleagues on Instagram. Creepy? Maybe. But following each other on Instagram was the perfect way to take our communication from boring work emails to something more substantive… “Substantive” meaning funny memes and cat videos. This gave us something to laugh about the next day at work, or a way to connect over the weekend without hanging out in-person. 

Not sure what to ping your pal about? Text them about that Netflix show you’re both watching, comment something nice on their Instagram post, or send them an article about the celebrity you’re both obsessed with. Soon, you’ll have plenty to talk about both in the office and beyond. 

As your work friendship blossoms in real life, be sure to always keep it professional when you’re in the office. Once you get comfortable with someone, it can be tempting to gossip, text each other all day while you’re at your desk, etc. I’ve definitely been there. Just remind yourself that there’s a time and a place for everything… like happy hour! 

Originally published on July 27, 2021.

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Francesca is a devoted cat mom (and Taylor Swift fan) currently living in New York City. She is pursuing a Masters degree in teaching. In her free time, she loves visiting museums, hiking/spending time outdoors, and reading. Her favorite Starbucks order is a chai latte with almond milk.