I keep a hot chocolate and tea bar in my office. Every few mornings one of my coworkers walks in, doesn’t say good morning, doesn’t ask how my day or weekend was, she just starts making herself a hot chocolate. She may, while waiting for the kettle to boil, turn to me and ask “Did you scan in the documents yet?” or say “I’ve got a job for you. You have to manage the partner meeting because I’ll be auditing next month.” Normally this would be off-putting, but in the case of this particular individual, it’s not. It’s quite a comforting experience because this isn’t just a coworker, this is my work wife.
If you’re not familiar with the term a work wife/spouse/husband, it’s someone you work with so closely that the comfort level rivals a real marital relationship. This got me thinking about the nature of relationships in the professional world. I’m not talking about illicit office affairs. I’ve fortunately never been tempted in that regard but have known several people who have fallen into that situation. No, I’m talking about the nature of the relationship between office professionals.
No matter who you are, our connected world and interrelated systems means that we are closer than ever to our coworkers, not physically closer – ironically, that has actually lessened as more people communicate through email or telecommute – but closer insofar as we are more interdependent on each other. As organizations continually try to do more with less people, we, the professional individual contributors, are all given more and more responsibilities. Yet we are expected to meet those responsibilities individually. Ultimately we become more interdependent.. and sometimes formality drops because we simply don’t have the ability to be formal and get the job done.
We simply don’t have the ability to be formal and get the job done.
This is one of those areas that I’m undecided on. Informality can be both a comfort and a burden. It’s a comfort when it works well. It’s a tremendous burden when the relationship is adversarial. I guess I should just be thankful that when she asks “Do you think you can get the revised policy to me today?” she doesn’t add “and don’t forget to pick up milk on your way home.”
I’ve got my other wife to remind me about that.