Virtual Water Cooler: Finding Connection In The Workplace Again

  • Dan Bladen
  • Author Dan Bladen, CEO & Co-Founder

Can you design spontaneity? Think back to 2018 when serendipitous conversations or water cooler moments at the office were taken for granted. More so, they were considered a waste of time by many. 

Fast forward three years later: the digital world, in all its wisdom, has robbed us of the thresholds of transition, the office spaces where unplanned, uncontrolled conversations happen.

Now, we are consistently looking for ways to replicate the ideas of the 5-minute chats in hallways, in break rooms, and around the coffee machine that fostered connection and community. We are nostalgic for the water cooler conversations. So, can we design virtual water coolers and corridors? 

The Essence Of The Water Cooler Conversation

One benefit of being in the physical workspace is engaging in informal conversations that happen impromptu and in different spaces around the office. It can happen anywhere and in between spaces.

What you might not realize is that these awkward conversations with strangers, colleagues, and friends in your office building are important because they inspire the creation of communities and connections among office workers. As a result, employees become more committed to the organization.

Think about it. An employee hits a wall and decides to take a break as they drink a cup of cold water to chill their nerves. They meet another team member doing the same thing. A conversation strikes between the two about their challenging experiences with the new project. This fosters water cooler learning. In workplaces like hospitals where the probability of stress is significantly high, these conversations contribute greatly to how employees deal with complexities and stress. 

The best part about these conversations is that everyone passes through, meaning less control and more spontaneity. How do you bring the same experience to the digital world? How do you inspire water cooler conversations in virtual work meet-ups?

Herein Lies The Challenge of Workplace Meetings

Technology has made virtual collaboration easy because people can chat in Zoom meetings or through apps and informal groups. For instance, small businesses have virtual water coolers that remain open to anyone indefinitely.

As such, any employee can meet others or start a conversation at any time. Some keep out the over-interested managers in the office, leading to engagement with the most innovative and creative thoughts. But, can artificial intelligence turn uncertainty into an algorithm?

Additionally, these spaces thrive because they operate far from the clutches of managers and employers. So what happens when employees feel like their bosses are forcing issues by manipulating them into meeting each other virtually?

The entire system will crumble. If anything, your employees will find another way of meeting and collaborating that is far beyond your reach. Still, the goal is to avoid hybrid working mistakes like missing out on water cooler connections.

The only way to do this successfully is to let go of the need to control interactions between your employees. Instead, work on improving employee morale and engagement by making the entire virtual experience informal.

Hacking Virtual Water Cooler Conversations

First, Understand The Importance Of A Virtual Water Cooler

You need one to sustain growth and employee satisfaction in the digital era because:

It Facilitates Team Bonding

Remote employees are self-reliant: they meet deadlines without supervision, handle themselves well, and work on their skills to handle problems well. Additionally, remote workers need communication skills to have a seamless workflow among team members and managers.

Nonetheless, the human-centric workplace is important to meet interests and needs beyond working self-sufficiently. This is where a virtual water cooler comes it. It allows your remote workers to have a space to connect with colleagues over mutual interests. Meeting these interests increases performance, teamwork, productivity, and engagement.

It Generates New Ideas

Look beyond office gossip, and you’ll find that water coolers provide a space where creative business ideas are birthed. Why? This is a space where employees communicate freely without any reservations. The conversations lead to brainstorming sessions that streamline processes and policies and give birth to ideas that encourage business innovation and growth.

It Links Your Remote Workers To The Organization

Some of the best-performing employees have a sense of belonging to their organization. However this can be hard to cultivate among remote employees because they barely meet managers and other colleagues face to face. A virtual water cooler is one solution to this problem.

When employees start to collaborate among themselves, they form strong relations with each other and the company. As such, remote workers start to feel connected to their company, giving them a sense of being a part of something larger than themselves. This enhances the dedication employees have towards an organization.

It Breaks Departmental Silos And Barriers

This is a space where employees feel free to interact with everyone. The more bonds are formed, the more the silos between departments are broken. In its place, networks are established that further its progress through organizational collaboration. This also improves the business culture and the cohesion among the organizational hierarchies.

Second, Start To Build The Virtual Water Cooler Effect

Step 1: Encourage interactions between your employees. For instance, create collaborative projects for employees to encourage them to work together, albeit remotely. Remember, the goal is to encourage, not to control. Technology that provides connectivity channels will help a great deal here.

Step 2: Help your employees understand the importance of meeting deadlines and how it contributes to the overall organizational performance. The trick here is to motivate your employees by creating strategies that build engagement. This will, in turn, inspire employees to meet deadlines proactively.

Step 3: Set time for digital meetings with your employees to keep a consistent link between every individual and the organization. One-on-one meetings are especially important for employees since it allows you to get to know each other and the company more intimately.

Step 4: Practice consistency with your communication. This tells your employees you are readily available when they need you, making them more secure in the organization and its management.

Step 5: Make the entire virtual water cooler experience fun by removing any dead factors, even when talking about important company strategies.

Step 6: Consistently show your employees gratitude for working with you, meeting deadlines, and providing innovative ideas for your business. Reward your employees for a job well done by providing incentives or recognition to the entire team. Personalizing the incentives would provide a better reward experience for your employees.

Step 7: Make sure your digital communication is flexible and clear. Humans are wired to take note of every behavioral indicator and cue. Therefore, create a system where emotions, human cues, and personality are shared freely to make your virtual interactions more authentic.

Third, Understand The Different Virtual Water Cooler Types

Virtual Club Water Coolers

Create and invite employees to join clubs like film, book, or cooking clubs based on employee interests. You can then host the clubs on designated days after hours. Use technology to get features like in-meeting chats and emojis that offer engagement options.

Team Water Coolers

This is a virtual space where your employees go when they need a break and a casual conversation without work-related tasks and deadlines getting in the way. You can use a group messaging feature to create channels, each for a specific topic, where employees interact and relax for a couple of minutes.

Happy Hour Water Coolers

Happy hour is the long-awaited end to a long, tedious week in the office. Take these moments virtual by facilitating an online bonding session where employees can have trivia games, movie nights, wine tasting, and other activities as they drink.

Office Water Coolers

Create a virtual breakroom where your employees can slack intentionally. For instance, video conferencing meet and greet once or twice a week during a coffee or lunch break. Use this time to encourage live chats among employees. Allow them to talk about everything and anything.

Lastly, Don’t Forget Virtual Water Cooler Conversations

Get A Digital Communication Tool

You need the right tools to communicate with your team efficiently, especially if they are all in different remote locations. For instance, you need video conferencing software to facilitate virtual meetings.

This is an excellent tool to facilitate the virtual water cooler environment. You also need Group Chats to connect with your employees. This is perfect for team water coolers because you can set the chats based on employee interests. You can also use this for the virtual club water coolers.

Choose The Right Platform

Your software solution should have a friendly user experience, and it should make the entire experience convenient for every user. For instance, virtual water coolers should allow your employees to interact as they please. This means letting them join and leave the conversation as they please.

Build Separate Channels And Rooms

The goal is to create channels that strengthen the company culture. For instance, you need a virtual water cooler for employees in the same department. But you also need another virtual space for remote workers to meet and collaborate with employees from different departments. You can also have rooms for storytelling, event planning, and hobby discussions, among others. 

Fun Virtual Team Building Activities To Try

Water cooler conversations are excellent for workplace wellbeing and stress management because they thrive on human connections. In a word, the need to connect with others is continuously growing, making it a vital part of employee needs.

These are some virtual team-building activities you can try to enhance the interaction between your employees.

Meme Wars

What’s a better way to start your virtual water cooler conversations than with a good meme war party. Create one meme channel and let employees compete as they share memes. Make the experience more interesting by rewarding memes voted as the funniest by most employees.

Pet Channel

Capture the hearts of your employees by making their pets important. Create an entire channel dedicated to your employees’ pets and let your team members share adorable and embarrassing pics of their pets. This is bound to make your employees smile as they work and give them that break they need to avoid burnout.

Gaming Nights

Today, there are numerous remote-friendly games to choose from, like video games, cards, and brain teasers. Find a time when everyone is available between 8 and 10 pm when everyone is done with work, and the kids are in bed. Then start your game for the night. Online games to select from include Wordraw, Settlers of Catan, Skribbl, and Scattergories.

Happy Hour

We’ve mentioned the importance of happy hour for your employees. So why not build it into your culture by getting on a video call once a month and drinking your favorite drinks as you catch up and unwind virtually?

Celebrate Birthdays

Remember your employees with a surprise birthday celebration and make them feel valued and appreciated. Organize a Zoom call with the rest of your staff members before the birth date, then schedule a meeting and surprise your employee.

Let everyone sing Happy Birthday or contribute some money to give the employee as an incentive or buy a personalized present. Make it an entire party by dressing for the occasion and eating dinner together from your respective remote locations.

The Bottom Line

No spontaneity and effort will give you the virtual water cooler conversations you seek without the right office culture. This means that you must create the right culture to get the results you want from your virtual water cooler efforts.

After all, culture motivates your employees to do their best and care about the processes you implement in the organization. Therefore, create the right culture, and your employees will do what is necessary to grow your business through an interactive virtual water cooler conversation.