Having close friends is important and comforting, but research shows that casual or “weak-tie” friendships are as valuable as strong ones — much more, even. Stanford University’s sociology professor Mark Granovetter published “The Strength of Weak Ties” in 1973. There, he explains that quantity is significant, too, when it comes to the matters of friendship.

A person’s social world is divided into two: the inner and outer circles. People whom we usually talk to and feel attached to belong to the inner circle, whereas those we interact with infrequently belong to the outer circle. Granovetter categorized these as “strong ties” and “weak ties,” respectively. He further elaborates that weak ties help us more when it comes to learning new information and ideas.

Some companies, like Pixar, intentionally design their offices/buildings to initiate serendipitous meetings among employees somewhere specific (in Pixar’s case, in a large, central hall). Steve Jobs, who overlooked the company’s building design, wanted colleagues to bump into each other and spark casual conversations from there. Gillian Sandstrom, researcher at the University of Essex, also found that weak ties generate a happier atmosphere and a greater sense of belonging.

“Sometimes it’s harder to talk to people we know well because those conversations come with an emotional burden,” Sandstrom says. Because of the pandemic, our movements are limited: for example, social gatherings may not resume normally for a while because of bans. This means we run out of things to share to our friends when we do get the chance to talk to them. However, this doesn’t mean we have to stop there.

As stated in Granovetter’s work, we get more information from weak ties. Try asking how your friends and acquaintances are during the pandemic and start from there. After all, we’re all curious how they’re coping right now, and we can get ideas to figure out how we should behave. Sandstrom points out that right now, social media is the best substitute for casual conversations. Asking how others are through casual conversations means you care about them without consuming too much of your time, attention, or energy, and this is the secret to a casual yet long-lasting friendship.