Why a WFH Social Lunch Can Be Your Most Rewarding Work Hour

It’s month five of working from home with no end in sight — this is a drag. Yes, it’s awesome and you feel grateful that you still have a job. But we’re not here to compare suffering; it’s okay to acknowledge that working from home when you don’t want to sucks.

I’ve found myself working longer and less fun hours over the past few months. So my recommendation might seem a little counter-intuitive: the most rewarding hour of your day is the hour you’re skipping out on — lunch.

During the one hour each day you can leave work behind, you should call up a colleague. Here’s why.

We’re Lonely

Talking to people is part of my professional responsibility. I’ve never found it easier to ask for — and receive — someone else’s time than I do these days. People miss talking to others. Your request for a thirty- to sixty-minute chat over lunch will be welcomed — I promise.

When you build up some success requesting lunch dates with your colleagues, widen your net. Whom do you wish you could have a lunch date with? Find their LinkedIn, and shoot them an InMail. I recently got up the nerve to ask a marketing idol of mine, Ron Tite, for such a meeting, and he accepted.

We’re Stuck in an Endless Loop of Blah

You’re likely getting into a rut from a lack of chance encounters with others. Other people bring surprising connections, ideas, and resources to a conversation. Having an engaged lunch with another person will inject some energy and freshness into an otherwise drab Wednesday.

Lunches with my colleagues have turned me on to some of the coolest things I’ve come across recently. They’ve introduced me to a favorite podcast, helped me join an awesome foundation, taught me how not to fall off my mountain bike so often, and showed me an app that helps me track my attempt to walk on every street in Ann Arbor. Breaking up an otherwise monotonous day with a social lunch unearths opportunity to take on your work (and life) with a fresh perspective.

We’re Bad at Socializing on Zoom

Zoom meetings are great for facilitating remote work. But those same meetings used to involve idle chatter, some breaks, or even a walk around the block to grab lunch together. Zoom doesn’t facilitate these in-the-cracks conversations. When you compound these factors into five Zoom calls a day for infinite days, the lack of side conversations adds up, and suddenly, these social-professional relationships I enjoyed start to lose their social aspect.

Maybe we’ll find a way to recreate the social aspect in Zoom some time, but for now, I recommend feeding those relationships with an explicitly social phone call. This will grease the wheel of getting work done and hopefully make the Zoom calls a little more personal as well. Plus, using the phone lets you multi-task. Mute yourself while you’re slurping up that Ramen, and no one will know the difference.

We’re Itching to Help

This is a time of need for so many of us. And if you’re like me, the needs are pretty particular to this moment. Social calls without agendas are fertile ground for identifying and connecting needs and solutions. On a recent lunch call, my colleague Ryan connected me to just the person I had been trying to research, and I was able to interview that person the next week. I’ve chatted with a couple of people over lunch who told me they were looking for a new career, and it’s been fun to connect them with others in my network who are hiring.

Helping gives us meaning in our day, and receiving help can make the phone call a super-efficient way to work. It used to be that we could pick up on our colleagues’ needs through an eavesdropped open office conversation or an unusually melancholy expression on a coworker’s face. Now, we have to go looking for ways to support — and be supported by — one another.

A person holding a smart phone

Make a Social Call Plan that Works for You

When I realized the benefits of a social lunch hour at work, I knew making this a habit would benefit my career and day-to-day experience. But life happens, and knowing that lunches matter is different from actually making them happen.

Here are the tactics that enabled my social work lunch strategy.

Pick Your Communication Tool

I’ve opted to hold these distant lunches using the phone instead of Zoom. This is a personal preference due to Zoom fatigue, being tired of looking at my own face all day, and the ability to hold these calls outside when the weather is nice. Personally, I find it much easier to engage and listen intently on a conversation over the phone.

Bundle Calls with an Outdoor Lunch or Stroll

It makes me less distracted and carries the multitasking benefit of getting a little exercise.

Work Your Way Down a Dance Card

I made the goal of scheduling a lunch with each of my 70+ colleagues, and I’m about a quarter of the way through. Giving the plan a goal helps me stay focused and continue to schedule these.

Schedule Them Far into the Future

Task block your scheduling so that you only need to spend a single chunk of time scheduling these. I’ve got my biweekly social lunch calls booked two months out. That way, I don’t have to think about it until the event happily pops up on my calendar.

Hone Your Conversational Craft

I’ve found that, so long as you’re deeply listening to your lunch guest, the conversation inevitably gets interesting. I had worried about awkward silences between me and people I don’t know very well, but if they accept your invitation, that generally means they’re interested in making the conversation enjoyable. Here are some tips I’ve used to keep conversations going.

The Challenge

See if you can schedule one social lunch call a week. It might feel a little inconvenient or awkward to get the ball rolling, but I hope you’ll come to see that a little social connection right now can bring you and your workplace more value than an extra hour of heads-down work. Give it a shot, and let me know what you think.