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isHow chummy are YOUR co-workers? Very friendly and interactive? As stuffy as a newly pressed shirt? I have been in the workforce for a long time, and so I’ve experienced the gamut of relationships with fellow employees as probably have many of you.

A growing number of employers seem to think that promoting workplace friendships is a good idea as well. At Hootsuite in Vancouver, senior director Noel Pullen started something called Random Coffee, in which employees can opt into a social break with a stranger from another department.

“Business happens through relationships — they’re one and the same, if you’re lucky — so Random Coffee is trying to build those,” Pullen told Benefits Canada. (He notes that 30 percent of staff voluntarily enrolled.)

This firm is hardly alone. FreshBooks launched a Blind Dates program with similar goals, and chief executive officer Mike McDerment says the resultant mingling has led to more collaboration, fresh perspectives, and even swapping of skills. (McDerment told Benefits Canada that a full 50% of his staff have participated.)

Should forging friendships and solid relationships at work occur naturally? Or strongly encouraged? The firms interviewed for the Benefits Canada piece preferred the latter approach. Flight Centre in Toronto mandates one-on-one coffee dates, an annual ball, and a monthly Buzz Night in which everyone goes out for dinner and drinks. One introverted employee says the events have given him opportunities to open up, and he’s even formed friendships.

Personally, I’m not sold on the idea of making get togethers mandatory. workerIt’s probably a decent idea to try, but try too hard and the event will seem staged, forced, with everyone appearing to be cordial, but not really very inviting – a most awkward situation! I think a better approach is to allow social activities to evolve naturally, with focusing on common interests a good way to start.

For instance, if most employees have an interest in bowling, have a bowling night. If the majority are single, the Blind Dates program noted earlier might work well. However, if most are married, what about a progressive dinner, in which co-workers start with an appetizer at one house, proceed to another for the main course, and end up at a third employee’s residence for coffee and dessert.

Put another way, what do employees like to do in their time off? And what do work colleagues have in common?  Whatever you try, if it doesn’t work, don’t call it quits! Maybe you just didn’t pick the right activity – or perhaps the timing wasn’t right. For example, a progressive dinner would probably be a bad thing to schedule during the already busy holiday season.

But it’s vital to promote SOME type of activity that brings employees closer together. It’s good for morale, building camaraderie, productivity, and ultimately the bottom line. Who wants to just “punch a clock,” do their daily tasks, and head home… day in, day out, month in, month out.

You probably spend a lot of time with co-workers – so why not get to know each other at least a little better? I’ve written hundreds of stories as a reporter and editor, but I barely remember any of them. I DO, however, have fond memories of a lot of colleagues!