Close friends have many benefits, but research shows that having “weak-tie” friendships is as valuable — or even more — as strong ones. Sociology professor Mark Granovetter of Stanford University published a study called “The Strength of Weak Ties” in 1973. He explains there that quantity is important as well in friendship.

There are two types of “circles” when it comes to a person’s social world: the inner and outer circles. Close friends we feel comfortable with belong to the inner circle. Meanwhile, people whom we talk to but not frequently belong to the outer circle. Granovetter refers to them as “strong” and “weak” ties; he points out the importance of weak ties when it comes to learning new information and ideas.

Some companies design their offices and buildings with the intention of letting people meet by coincidence in a specific area. For example, Pixar has a large, central hall where employees bump into each other and start casual conversations from there. Gillian Sandstrom, researcher at the University of Essex, also found that weak ties create a better, happier atmosphere and a greater sense of belonging.

Sandstrom says that social interactions nowadays are limited due to restrictions caused by the pandemic. In turn, we run out of things to share with our friends when we get the chance to talk to them. “Sometimes it’s harder to talk to people we know well because those conversations come with an emotional burden,” Sandstrom says. But this doesn’t mean we have to stop here.

As stated in Granovetter’s work, we get more information from weak ties. Take advantage of the pandemic by asking your friends and acquaintances how they are. Start from there, then ask how they’re coping with the current situation; this way, 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. Sparking a casual conversation is a way to show that you care without using much of your time, attention, and energy. That is the secret behind “weak-tie” friendships.