I vote “yes” for friends at work.
However, I think it best to separate “work friends” from “personal friends.” The word friends is overused and diluted (think Facebook). I suggest shifting the term toward specificity and reframing “work friends” as “colleague relationships.”
The September 6 New York Times article, “Friends at Work? Not So Much,” suggests that work and family time constraints require work friendships, otherwise, we’re lonely, less creative and less productive.
We clan animals need others in ALL of our habitats. Be clear on relationship objectives. The goals of “colleague relationships” are collaboration, trust and creating innovative products and services at work. Done right, this can be very meaningful. Save intimate sharing for “personal friends.”
To establish “colleague relationships,” be intent on face-to-face conversation as much as possible, increase honesty using collaborative language and build real trust by staying true to your word, delivering on time, supporting your team and staying out of office gossip.
If a group is trashing a colleague, even if you agree, walk away, say nothing or reply with a neutral comment guiding the conversation away from judgment. This response implicitly tells your colleagues that you play fair, have integrity and value respect above all. That’s leadership, the road to the top and meaningful colleague relationships, at work.