Getting work done well while on the job is the most important element of any office environment.
However, creating network of connected co-workers is essential to successfully completing that goal. What helps remote teams and co-workers feel connected to one another? Is it an open concept workspace? Team building activities? Or is it simply being able to bond by being around each other?
What is it?
What is a virtual water cooler? A virtual water cooler is an online version of “water cooler chat.”
“Water cooler chat” is what happens when coworkers take a short break from work and socialize. Whether they discuss professional projects or their personal lives, chatting together “around the water cooler” is a great time for employees to refresh and reconnect.
You don’t need a literal water cooler to make “water cooler chat” happen. People talk during lunch breaks, while making coffee, or printing copies. All this to say, being physically present in the office provides plenty of time for casual bonding and conversations.
COVID has disrupted that dynamic. While many companies have adapted to remote work, creating organic conversational situations has continued to be a challenge. How can organizations ensure employees have ample opportunities to connect, despite the distance?
Naturally, the answer is to create a remote version — the virtual water cooler. This is a digital situation that allows people to bond in a way similar to the in-person opportunities that exist in the physical office. While the scenarios may have to be more structured rather than spontaneous, working from home is no excuse to stop the conversation!
Why Is It Important?
B E L O N G I N G. With employees scattered across a city, country, or even the world, distance regularly makes employees feel isolated. Virtual water coolers create open communication for team members, providing opportunities to develop camaraderie and feel like a valuable part of the group. They break through the discouraging barriers of time zones and solely work-related interactions.
I N V O L V E M E N T. Virtual water coolers, much like their physical counterparts, can also increase professional engagement from employees as they feel more naturally involved in their work environment.
I N S P I R A T I O N. Chatting with co-workers, whether about personal topics or work-related subjects, can give birth to new ideas beneficial to the company culture. Often talking through thoughts and ideas helps people naturally reach new conclusions and plans of attack. Therefore, virtual water cooler conversations encourage collaboration and fresh thinking.
How To Create a Virtual Water Cooler
Here are three easily applied solutions to create a virtual water cooler to ensure team members feel connected.
1. Have a Question of the Day
An easy way to keep conversation happening is to have a question of the day asked by a designated person in the company’s digital chatroom of choice (i.e. Slack, Google Hangouts, etc.).
Co-workers can chat about each other’s answers at their convenience and learn new things about team members!
Chatting apps are also perceived as less formal than emails or video meetings, which can allow co-workers to feel more comfortable opening up.
2. Start with an ice breaker
During regular company virtual meetings on a video call, start with an easy icebreaker! This allows team members to loosen up and feel more comfortable and connected to the people on the other side of the screen.
3. Intentional team building
Virtual team building activities are a great way to keep employees engaged and connected! While they may require a slightly higher level of planning, they often bring a greater reward. From professional development options to activities solely meant for fun, engaging online team building activities are an effective addition to any virtual water cooler strategy.
- Don’t make it awkward! Avoid asking uncomfortable questions that make kill conversation.
- Make it easy! Not all team members are chatty, especially on a video call. Try not to force people to be in a call one-on-one and have them make conversation, especially if they wouldn’t normally talk to that person alone face to face.
- Have a theme! When scheduling these coffee breaks, having a theme can sometimes give people an easy conversation starter. Whether the theme is to drink their favorite kind of tea, talk about their hometowns, or share a funny memory, having a common ground theme makes things both easy and fun!