Life & Work Skills

Juggling Business and Friendship: 4 Tips for Navigating Working with Friends

working with friends"
working with friends
Source: @pnw-prod | Pexels
Source: @pnw-prod | Pexels

Working alongside my best friend is a joy that I sincerely treasure. It’s like having the freedom to ease into the day without the morning rush! Our meetings? They feel more like strategizing our next Netflix binge and trusting her with the big decisions feels as natural as breathing. But don’t get it twisted—it’s not all fun and games. Working with friends doesn’t come without challenges.

My best friend and I started a new business together, and while we share the same vision for it, we’re definitely not the same person. As we’ve grown as individuals and as professionals, we’ve had to adapt regularly and continue to learn alongside one another—in both business and life. This has come with its own set of surprises, and trust me, they’re not always the fun kind. Thankfully, we’ve learned how to weave friendship and business and find the perfect balance over time. So, whether you’re navigating the corporate world with your best friend or in business together, I’m sharing my best advice for working with friends.

Set clear boundaries from the start

Setting clear lines between your work and personal lives is the first (and arguably the most important) thing you should do. How you spend your time together has to be intentional—whether you’re working on a new proposal in the office or laughing over wine on the weekends. They both serve their purpose, but each needs to have separate time and space dedicated to them.

Defining clear work hours (specific times when you are working together or even talking about work) can help you respect each other’s time and personal commitments. For example, don’t call your friend to talk about work on the weekend when she has friends in town. Using different communication tools for work and personal chats can help with this. Slack or email can be used for work, while texts or social media can be used for personal interactions. The line between work and life can easily get blurry when these cross.

Similarly, try not to solely talk about work all night long when you’re with the rest of your girlfriends. They won’t be in on the tea, and it can make others feel a little left out. We get it, you work together. Save it for Monday!

Don’t be afraid to have hard conversations

Put on your big girl panties because shit can get real when you are working with friends. Tough talks? They’re the secret sauce to a no-nonsense relationship—inside and outside of work. Don’t tip-toe around hard-to-tackle topics like how your working relationship is going.

To discuss tough topics without drifting into personal territory, my best friend and I schedule chats as needed to talk through any work-related issues we are running into together. We come prepared with points to cover so we can stay focused on the issue at hand. This, along with avoiding placing blame on one another, helps keep our friendship and professional respect intact, ensuring no bad blood spills over. If the air starts to feel heavy or misaligned, we take a step back and have a true heart-to-heart, so we can get to the bottom of what’s really going on. Did someone cross a boundary? Are we actually just upset because of something that happened outside of work?

At the end of the day, you know your friend well, and if something is bothering them or making their life hard, whether it’s work-related or not, you usually know something is off. Don’t ignore that instinct or sweep issues under the rug out of fear of ruffling feathers. It’ll only affect your work and friendship negatively.

Don’t let their work drama become your work drama

No matter where you work, how many people you work with, or how strong your company culture is, there is always a little bit of work drama circulating. Not everyone is going to work well together or like each other—and that’s OK! However, taking sides or getting in the middle of a problem your friend might be having in the workplace is never a good idea.

Be mindful to not let your personal loyalty interfere with your other relationships in the workplace.

For example, if your friend is upset with a colleague you both interact with about something that happened during a meeting (let’s say they shot down her idea and talked down to her), she will probably march right over to your desk (or slack call you) post-meeting to vent about it. As a friend, you should listen to them. But as a fellow colleague, you should not get involved or let that affect your working relationship with said colleague. Even if you want to protect your friend and stick up for them, it’s best to stay out of it. You can’t let their work drama become yours (and vice versa).

Now, this doesn’t mean you can’t give them advice on the situation or support them if they’re angry or upset. You just need to be mindful to not let your personal loyalty interfere with your other relationships in the workplace (or your professional reputation). And remember, this goes both ways.

Leverage each other’s strengths

My best friend is the yin to my yang. At work, I dream big, and she zeroes in on the details. With this in mind, recognizing what each of us brings to the table and capitalizing on our individual strengths helps fuel our joint goals. Whether you work together on projects all the time at work or you’re on separate teams in the same building, count on each other for support and share your strengths! For example, let’s say you’re better with the vision rather than the details, but you really need help nailing down a timeline for a project. You should look to your friend, who is more numbers-driven, to help you nail down the logistics!

For business owners like us, this is especially beneficial, but there are countless ways you can play off of each other’s strengths in the workplace. Ask them questions, go to them for advice in areas they excel in and could help you with, and ask if they see any areas where you could be better or develop new skills. Asking a friend where you could improve is much less intimidating than asking a higher-up. Plus, they’re more likely to give you tough love when you need it. No matter your working relationship, identifying each other’s strengths and leaning on one another in the workplace can be incredibly rewarding.

Don’t compare or compete

It’s hard to watch a co-worker get an opportunity you wanted (like a promotion or a client), but it’s even harder when that co-worker is your close friend. Sure, you’re happy for them, but celebrating their big win stings a little. Whether you’ve experienced this already or not, know that you’re not a bad person if you’re not *so excited* for them. But with that said, you do have to be careful not to compare yourself to them. Just like there will be areas where you excel a little more, there will be areas that they exceed in, too. That’s just a part of life!

Comparison and competition, inside and outside of the workplace, can lead to envy and resentment, which are all things that can be detrimental to your personal relationship. If this happens to you, odds are that your friend feels a little weird knowing you were hoping for the same win. Find it in you to truly congratulate them and set your sights on your next big thing. And if the roles are reversed, be understanding if they dip out of your celebratory happy hour a little early. Your job, as friends, is to root for each other, so don’t get caught up in who has the “upper hand” in the workplace.

Your job, as friends, is to root for each other, so don’t get caught up in who has the “upper hand” in the workplace.

Trust each other

Zig Ziglar said it best when he said, “If people like you, they will listen to you. But if people trust you, they will do business with you.” In a cutthroat world, knowing someone’s always in your corner is the ultimate power-up, especially for women. When working with friends, respect, empathy, transparency, understanding, and trust are vital. These are the pillars you’ll lean on when things get tough. Thankfully, friendships have these as a foundation already, so bringing them into the workplace can only benefit you both.

To benefit from these things at work, be open about your thoughts, feelings, and expectations to prevent misunderstandings and reinforce trust. For example, if you feel like your friend hasn’t been prioritizing certain projects at work and it’s putting more on your plate, you need to be honest about that with them. Or, if you are feeling burnt out, let them know. They might be able to help you develop better productivity habits. Opening this door of communication will make you both less likely to think the other is slacking off or disrespecting your time, especially if you’re working on a shared goal.

Final thoughts

Working with friends requires a blend of tough love, boundaries, and a whole lot of trust. While we’re not always perfect at doing these things, my best friend and I have been able to not just survive the workplace but thrive, too. Whether you’re building an empire or your desks are next to each other at a start-up, continue to be intentional and prioritize both your working relationship and personal relationship. Sometimes, they will overlap—but as long as you respect each other, you can become even closer and grow in your careers. And what’s better than reaching your goals and following your dreams alongside your friends? The hard work, crazy moments, tough talks, emotional rollercoasters, and everything in between are all worth it.