Weak social ties and the workplace

Weak Social Ties: The Hidden Superpower of the Workplace
February 8, 2023
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Weak ties are vital to a company’s success.

The shift to remote and hybrid work has strengthened many employees’ connections to their immediate team members. Daily video calls will do that. But weak social ties — those relationships with colleagues outside our close circle — have suffered. 

Weak ties create bridges that allow new information to pass between groups, and they’re vital to a company’s culture and success. Fortunately, you already have the key to repairing the ties that have weakened over the last few years: the workplace. 


  1. Weak ties — those we form through infrequent interactions with a person — are key to establishing a highly productive workplace because they allow novel information to pass between teams.
  2. Micro-level interactions create macro-level patterns. The more weak-tie interactions within your organization, the more positive the macro-level patterns, such as employee engagement and productivity.
  3. Strengthen weak ties within your organization by creating channels for casual communications, having purpose-driven in-office days, and encouraging local employees to get together regardless of what team they’re on.

The role of weak social ties in the workplace

A sense of community is one of our core needs as humans, and it’s a critical consideration when developing a cohesive and productive workforce. 

Within our communities, we develop two types of social ties: strong and weak.

  • Strong ties: Close relationships built on frequent interactions, such as those between colleagues on the same team.
  • Weak ties: Distant relationships established through infrequent interactions or secondary knowledge, such as a friend-of-a-friend or a colleague in a separate department.

Based on the name alone, it’s easy to assume that strong ties are better and more important than weaker ones, but that isn’t the case. They’re both needed to establish a sense of community, and weak ties are in jeopardy as more companies move to hybrid and remote models.

Sociologist Mark S. Granovetter identified the importance of weak ties in his article “The Strength of Weak Ties.” He explains that weak ties, or micro-interactions, are tied to macro-level patterns and that their importance centers on the flow of novel information. 

Translated to the workplace, this means that the weak ties between acquaintance-level colleagues create opportunities for new knowledge to pass between teams. Strong ties like those between team members can create echo chambers and silos that eliminate the novel information and fresh perspectives required for innovation and company growth. 

The macro-level patterns that develop within a company that has an imbalance of strong and weak ties can take many forms. A lack of weak social relationships can:

  • Erode corporate culture and a sense of community within the company
  • Lead to stagnant ideas and growth
  • Negatively impact diversity and inclusion efforts

A healthy balance of strong and weak social ties makes it easier to avoid those issues and focus more energy on business outcomes. Let’s look at an example: 

A product development team is struggling to solve a user experience issue. Despite multiple brainstorming sessions, no one has any new ideas about how to fix it. One of the developers runs into a weak-tie colleague while getting coffee and mentions what a nightmare this UX issue is. 

As they chat, the colleague provides several possible solutions that the product team hadn't thought of, and the developer brings those back to the team. It invigorates their efforts and creates a path to success.

In a company with underdeveloped weak ties, those two colleagues don’t interact beyond a friendly hello. The developer misses the opportunity to tap into a unique, external perspective that could have given the product team a turnkey solution.

Create opportunities to strengthen weak ties

Weak ties are based on infrequent social interactions, so it doesn’t take much to strengthen them. Incorporate some of the tips below into your workplace policies, and weak ties will begin improving almost immediately. 

  • Bring people into the office. This is the quickest and easiest way to work on weak ties. Proximity breeds familiarity, and familiarity strengthens social connections. (Related: 4 benefits to in-person collaboration—and how to nurture it)
  • Be intentional about in-office days. While simply getting people into the same room is enough to create weak ties, your employees don’t want to leave the comfort of their homes just to mingle. Have a clear purpose, like team building or cross-team collaborations. (Related: Why workplace leaders should focus on intentionality)
  • Encourage non-work conversations via technology like Slack. Casual communication channels allow people to connect over shared interests even if their work lives don't intersect. (Related: A conversation with Slack SVP Brian Elliot)
  • Organize remote workers around location rather than team. Local employees can work together at a coworking space or plan social events for colleagues in the same area. (Related: Why workplace leaders can’t afford to be shybrid)