Nowadays, most employees working remotely miss one major thing about their office life: impromptu conversations with their coworkers by the water cooler (or even the coffee machine). Never has the power of ‘water cooler conversations’ been more evident to employers than it is today.
Water cooler conversations have proven to be an office tradition that extends across nations and company cultures. However, with the onset of the pandemic, this event has come to a standstill. So, how does one build rapport in the ‘socially distant’ new normal?
Yes, in this case, a ‘virtual water cooler chat’ becomes a necessity! A virtual water cooler chat is like an online version of the water cooler conversations in your organisation. After all, it can create opportunities for what Steve Jobs called ‘casual collisions and spontaneous meetings‘. Even though he wasn’t a big fan of remote working, he still believed in such water cooler chats where spontaneous, accidental conversations and connections would come up in a no-pressure environment.
Why are Virtual Water Coolers Important?
According to a recent survey of over 400 remote workers, the two biggest frustrations that came to the fore were:
- 70% missed the social component of working from the office.
- 30% reported the inability to collaborate as a team.
If you are wondering why there’s a need for virtual water coolers, the following points might convince you:
- It gives your teams a chance to bond
- Inspires new ideas
- Reinforces ties and a sense of belonging
- Builds company culture
- Improves cross-departmental collaboration
- Improves employee retention
- Increases creativity and productivity
Virtual cooler conversations can help bring back a sense of normalcy to a work culture that has shifted from face-to-face to entirely online in a span of just over a year.
Ways to Facilitate Virtual Water Cooler Conversations Among Remote Workers
There are many ways to promote virtual water cooler chats among your remote teams, and thereby form strong remote teamwork and overcome communication challenges. Here’s how:
1. Team Chat Apps
Apps like Slack, Workplace by Facebook, etc., are great tools for remote workers to have real-time conversations. These provide a synchronised way for the team members to connect with one another without depending on email.
If you already use a team chat app to communicate with your team, you can use the same to encourage your team members to talk to each other. You can introduce a dedicated Slack channel for non-work chats where team members can talk about anything and everything. This is likely to improve the mental well-being of your employees.
2. Informal Team Breaks
Most employees will be engulfed with meetings and video calls due to today’s nature of remote work. Team breaks could also be used by managers to ask for feedback from employees and share their own observations. This can boost team morale and performance. It is also a great way to de-stress and rejuvenate before continuing with the rest of the work.Team breaks could also be used by managers to ask for feedback from employees and share their own observations. This can boost team morale and performance. Click To Tweet
Allow them to interact genuinely with the time without any work-related requests during this break time. This will create a fun environment for employees and managers to interact and, overall, will encourage higher employee engagement.
3. Host Virtual Team Clubs
Less time commuting to and from the office means more time for making a dent in your to-do list. While certain activities need extensive planning and a budget from the finance team, some fun ideas like hosting a virtual team book club, films, etc., can allow teams to connect with one another.
Create virtual clubs, maybe segregating by genre, and encourage employees to join remotely to converse with like-minded people and thereby connect over something that they love. This enables them to swap ideas and thoughts even on non-work-related topics. This can also enhance the company’s culture by boosting creativity.
4. Virtual Team-Building Activities
Team building activities are based on the idea of encouraging interactions between colleagues, enabling them to form strong bonds with each other. In the remote environment, virtual team-building activities are an excellent alternative.
These activities can be anything related to work, like brainstorming and knowledge transfer activities. They can also be informal, like an interactive game or icebreaker session where everyone gets to know each other better. Theme-based activities like storytelling night, game night, virtual escape room, a picture game, etc., can help create a positive atmosphere enhancing communication among your employees.
5. Openly Give Kudos
Establish a dedicated chat channel where each employee can applaud the excellent work of other employees. Host a small pyjama party in honour of employees exceeding performance expectations, a team who spent extra hours on a project, or employees that may have been appreciated by a client.
This will eventually boost your employees’ morale. Giving praise where it is due will help team members feel appreciated and valued by their managers, and colleagues. This can have a positive impact on retention and lower talent acquisition costs.
6. Encourage Healthy Habits
The sudden transition to remote work might impact employees on a professional and personal level. As a leader, take time in meetings to emphasise the importance of reducing stress and caring for oneself- both physically and mentally.
Encourage healthy habits through weekly challenges- Walk a few miles every day, daily workout challenges, join an online sports club, meditation sessions, zero sugar shopping, start an active hobby, stop brainstorming sessions to stretch together, etc. Reward participants for meeting the weekly milestones with gift vouchers or discount coupons. Initiatives like these show that the organisation cares for its employees’ wellness.
As you see, there are endless ways to promote virtual water coolers for your remote teams. Encourage this, and don’t be afraid to let your team take short breaks in between prolonged work hours. Not only will this make them more productive, but they will also be happier and healthier overall- something they will be forever grateful for.
Happy & Healthy Employees = Successful Organisation
And now it’s your turn! If you have any interesting thoughts or experiences related to this, do leave us a comment or get in touch with us- we would love to hear from you!