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Small intimacies like daily coffee or tea rituals can really strengthen bonds between colleagues and make the workplace a less lonely environment. Image Credit: Shutterstock

A warm smile can really bring sunshine to the dreariest of work days. It can work like a charm; like a secret handshake, to unlocking a rich friendship that can extend beyond the walls of office.

Ask Hayley Sydney, a Dubai-based British marketing professional. Often dubbed as the quiet, shy ‘new girl’ at her workplaces, she always found it difficult to break the ice with her colleagues. And as a result, her co-workers believed that she was just unfriendly and unapproachable. “At one workplace, It became a rather formidable and hostile environment; I just felt alone, while everyone else seemed to get along. I was not asked for anything, or just left alone, because they too, didn’t know how to approach me,” she recalls.

However, she has fond memories of one senior outside her team, who always smiled at her. “It was the little things she did. She would just ask if I had eaten lunch. And, she would offer me little snacks, often, whenever she saw me. She didn’t go out of her way at first, and I’m glad she didn’t; it was the small things that made all the difference. Eventually, we started talking and she is one of my closest friends in the world,” says Sydney. Clearly, a smile and a few concerned questions can really bring someone back from the brink. 

It’s a natural human tendency to want to connect to people at work, says Katherine Dale, an Abu Dhabi-based wellness expert and psychologist. “Sometimes, our compartmentalisation of office and the personal space goes against us: People are so afraid of mixing the two, that they don’t even try being more than cordial with colleagues,” she says. “You miss out on so much, by doing that. We all need friendships at work, to sustain ourselves,” she adds. As she explains: You’re spending a good eight hours in office. “You need a certain level of warmth in the atmosphere to function productively,” she says. “Otherwise, the loneliness finally gets to you, and you are not able to work properly. This could also lead to depression and anxiety in the long run,” she says.

A happier you, is a more productive you, as she explains. “You need to build friendships at work. Without it, you miss out on two crucial elements. You don’t have someone who has your back. And, neither do you have people to talk to, when the going gets rough. You need that emotional support as well,” she says.

So, how do you make the office space less lonely space for yourself? 

Good morning and a meme, if you please

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If you feel confused about how to start, begin with just saying hello and good morning to two people. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Never underestimate the power of a cat video.

As Nassima Menari, mindset and wellness expert, founder of says, those small, intimate and casual interactions can go a long way. You can start with a good morning, ask about their weekend, or share a funny meme. “These seemingly insignificant moments, pave the way for deeper connections,” she says. Establish common ground; see what common tastes you share. Books, movies, memes? Keep building on it.

Intimate, small, casual interactions within colleagues matter. Say good morning, ask about their weekend or share a funny meme. These seemingly insignificant moments pave the way for deeper connections....

- Nassima Menari, mindset and wellness expert, founder of

“Memes and fun reels are always a good conversation starter,” laughs Hilary Whitehead, a Dubai-based public relations consultant. “I think, that’s how I have built many of my work friendships. You show me a good cat video, I’ll probably ask you for coffee,” she says.

Remember you don’t have to be the person who befriends everyone either, explains Dale. If you feel generally overwhelmed and confused about how to start, think of the colleagues who you think are more approachable than others. “So, at least start with a good morning with those who don’t make you feel awkward, as if you are impinging on their personal space,” she says. You can start with one or two, first.

Set aside time

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Keep aside just a few minutes of the day, to be with a colleague. It can foster deep connections. Image Credit: Shutterstock

We get it; there’s just too much to do. There are too many emails; you’re flooded with calls and the deadlines just never seem to end.

However, even those 20 minutes in a busy work day can make all the difference. As Dale explains, “People will always use the busy excuse to actually avoid setting aside time, because they feel so uncomfortable in actually going out of their comfort zone. They would rather busy themselves with an email and their phones than actually build a relationship,” she says.

“So, you need to set aside time. It doesn’t take time to walk down with your colleague in the hall, and ask how they’re doing. Before you know it, it can lead to an establishment of a little routine like having coffee together every morning, and soon, you have a comforting friend at work,” she says.

There’s a sense of warmth and comfort when you start cultivating these little practices of morning, afternoon teas and having lunch together, adds Dale. There is an intimacy that slowly grows in these rituals. It also becomes a safety net on particularly difficult days. “If you have had a rough day, you now know that you have someone to talk to at the end of it. And that happens, when you make time for people,” she says.

Deepen your connections

Once you’ve gone beyond the perfunctory hellos in the corridor and built a practice of tea breaks, see if you can deepen your connection. As Menari explains, go beyond the superficial conversations. “Share personal stories, ask about their aspirations and offer support. This can also help in strengthening your bond too,” she says. Be open and compassionate, advises Noona Nafousi. Dubai-based wellness expert. Ask open-ended questions, and engage with your colleagues and create that safe psychological space that encourages deeper conversations in time.

"You could share whether you like to run, or listen to music, or going to art classes. You never know the person you might be speaking to, might be interested in these activities as well. Moreover, get curious about your colleagues, and ask them open-ended questions about their life," she says. You never know, a seemingly casual conversation about music or art, might lead to something more meaningful, and you could just find a friendship to treasure! 

Be open to sharing information about yourself outside work. Be it that you like to run, what music you like, or going to art classes. You never know the person you might be speaking to, could be interested in these activities as well. Get curious about your colleagues, and ask them open-ended questions about their life.

- Noona Nafousi, wellness expert

Many UAE-based professionals agree that they might have had some of the most profound, and confidential conversations during the brief lunch break. “I don’t think there’s a textbook for this; it just happens. Once you keep talking to someone and seeing them regularly, you just slowly share bits and pieces of your life,” says Sonal Singh, an Abu Dhabi-based professional in corporate communications.

And as the trust grows, you begin to share more. “I’m glad that I did,” says Singh. “My colleagues showed up in every possible way, after I let them into my life. I had just lost my mother and was also going through a separation. Somehow, talking to them became such a relief and respite in all that chaos; it’s something that I won’t forget,” she says.

Lastly, be real

Don’t make plans that you cannot commit to, warns Dale. If you have a busy schedule after work, let your colleagues know. Don’t try making plans just in a bid to look friendly, she says. Moreover, people can catch on when you’re being fake and inauthentic, she says. “They will see right through that, and find it difficult to trust you,” she says.

Ask yourself the question: What are you comfortable with, and what are you willing to ask people for?

As Nafousi summarises, "To connect with colleagues, it's essential to start by understanding and connecting with yourself. Recognise your emotions and thoughts, as this self-awareness lays the foundation for genuine interactions. Once you're in tune with yourself, aim to be as approachable as possible—smile, maintain open body language, and initiate conversations with a genuine interest in others," she says. By combining self-understanding with approachability, you create a welcoming environment that encourages others to connect with you, fostering meaningful workplace relationships.