“I miss seeing my colleagues and being able to bounce ideas off them.”
“I get to work with much more skilled people, now that our teams don’t have to be made up of people who are all in the same place.”
“I get so frustrated waiting for my co-workers to reply to my emails.”
Whenever I talk with people about the pain or joys of working remotely, I hear about their co-workers. That’s why I’m thrilled to be experiencing Peak Colleague—and why I want you to experience it, too.
Peak Colleague explained
Peak Colleague is the delightful experience of having constructive, congenial relationships across the breadth of your working life. It’s when you have at least one fantastic working relationship on every project you’re involved in, and absolutely no colleagues who are driving you bananas.
And in over thirty-five years of professional work, I can’t think of another time when I experienced this kind of collegial bliss.
How to get Peak Colleague
Since collegial relationships make up such a big part of our working lives, and especially, our remote-working lives, it pays to do everything you can to reach Peak Colleague. Reflecting on my own current moment of serendipity, I can say some of it is just luck—but I can also recommend a number of strategies that have helped bring this circumstance about.
The number one thing you can do to achieve Peak Colleague is to focus your time and attention on the opportunities that involve working with people who inspire, challenge and delight you. Say yes to the roles and projects that involve working with people you suspect of being sympatico colleagues, and walk away from “great opportunities” that involve interesting or lucrative work but where you simply don’t warm to the team.
Find your communication soulmates.
If you’re religious about unplugging at 5 p.m., and conscientious about responding to all your messages before the end of the workday, lean into the working relationships with colleagues who share that commitment. Conversely, if you’re the kind of person who likes to bounce around ideas when inspiration strikes—even if that’s 2 p.m. on a Sunday—you may want to cultivate some trusted advisors who share your proclivity for 24/7 texting.
Align on tech.
One of the things I adore about one of my latest close colleagues is that she is a fellow tech nerd who is happy to use fourteen different software tools on any one project, if it means we’re using the best tool for each job. Whether you’re a tech lover or limiter, look for people who share your preferences—and when you’re working with people who take a different approach, have an early conversation about where you need to compromise in order to align your work habits (for example, by using the same document collaboration platform, like Google Docs) and where you can each go your own way (you don’t have to use the same email program, for example.)
Invest in your colleagues.
Great colleagues are not just born, they’re made. Two of the people I love working with right now are younger colleagues I have worked with for several years. Witnessing them grow professionally (and supporting that growth with my own experience and feedback) has been satisfying, delightful, and personally rewarding—because the more skilled and confident they become, the more I can lean on them in my own work.
Fire your duds.
Sometimes what’s standing in the way of Peak Colleague are the one or two working relationships that are a source of conflict, an energy drain or simply a blah relationship that’s taking up space on your dance card. When you’re part of a project or team that is less than delightfully collegial, look for an exit—whether that means gracefully disengaging from a project, reducing your involvement, or breaking off your chunk of work so it involves less collaboration. Take careful notes on what’s not working for you, so that you know what to scan for in the future.
Roll your own.
Some of my most valued colleagues are friends with whom I have professional overlap, and where we use one another as sounding boards and supports. Think about the range of knowledge, skills and traits you need in your collegial circle, and then build out that circle with people you love working with, even if they aren’t all part of your organization.
Embrace the remote opportunity.
One benefit of remote work is that it makes distance irrelevant: When nobody’s in the office together, geography ceases to be a factor in who your “closest” colleagues are. In the past few years, I’ve had long-distance colleagues invest a lot more time in our work and collaboration, because I’m no longer second-best to the people in the office. That’s given me the opportunity to form closer working relationships with much more senior members of my client teams, who have fuelled my own professional learning and development in ways that make collaboration enjoyable and satisfying.
Towards Peak Colleague
As you craft your own Peak Colleague strategy, keep a careful eye on your own predilections and discomforts: It’s easy to fall into unconscious bias if you’re most comfortable working with people who look and think like you. You can avoid that trap by cultivating the habit of noticing and appreciating what you learn when you work with people who have different experiences and perspectives, and by embracing constructive discomfort as part of—and not a contradiction to—Peak Colleague.
Continually widening your notion of what a great collegial relationship looks like is one more way you can move towards Peak Colleague. There is tremendous joy in working entirely with people you respect, enjoy and learn from, and a hell of a lot of energy that is freed up when you don’t have to deal with folks who annoy you. Do your best to make these moments of Peak Colleague happen, and then make the most of the periods when the collegial stars align.
This post was originally featured in the Thrive at Work newsletter. Subscribe here to be the first to receive updates and insights on the new workplace.