A guide to fostering virtual water cooler moments

Communication
a-guide-to-fostering-virtual-water-cooler-moments

Want to learn how to foster virtual water cooler moments? Whether your company is new to remote working or has been doing it for some time, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in employees struggling to find a clear boundary for work-life balance. 

Having virtual water coolers moments can encourage stress-free interactions between remote workers. In this article, you’ll learn:

  • The importance of virtual water coolers
  • How to establish virtual water cooler moments to foster remote team connections
  • Some best practices to take into account

Why virtual water coolers are important (and fun)

Water cooler moments consist of the causal interactions between co-workers. These random run-ins become an opportunity for people to socialize about work and personal life, ultimately strengthening teamwork and collaboration within the company.

These happen much less frequently with remote work. Nowadays, isolation is a common occurrence among employees working from home. This becomes a huge problem, especially when 86% of employers blame a lack of communication as the reason behind work failures.

Water cooler conversations allow your remote team to:

  • Take a break from work
  • Have personal interactions with one another and strengthen bonds between remote workers in a less stressful environment
  • Allow people who don’t work directly with each other to chat
  • Bounce ideas in a casual setting
  • Create a sense of community in your virtual space

The question becomes, can we find a way to foster a communal and collaborative atmosphere online? That’s when creating your virtual water cooler becomes a priority.  

How to encourage virtual water cooler moments

Luckily, the digital world has many collaboration tools that can help bring back a sense of normalcy into the work culture that’s gone from face-to-face to completely online. Below we suggest a variety of activities and tools you can use to foster a healthy virtual workspace for your remote team.

1) Optimize your chat platform for water cooler interactions

Many platforms have features for team members to get to know each other and discuss topics not related to work.

On Slack or Microsoft Teams, consider implementing the following channels for water cooler chats:

Create channels for random interactions

Your #Random channels should be the first point of reference for all types of virtual water cooler conversations.

In these channels, you can start a conversation about virtually anything, from just saying a quick hello! to signal that you’re online to the rest of the team to complaining about the crappy way Game of Thrones ended. 

These channels can help bring great casual moments of levity, as they allow any employee to interact with each other, outside the constraints of their role or seniority.

You may even have a channel for #memes to share, well, memes that you find funny, or the dev team can even have their own #devmemes channel, which may contain, as you may have guessed right, memes on topics related to programming. 

Create channels for hobbies

From book clubs and self-care to sports and cooking, creating group chats around a variety of hobbies or interests will spark conversations between your employees. 

Implement casual coffee/tea break times

Creating a space where people can come together and enjoy a morning coffee or tea can help encourage employees to converse with one another.

On Slack, there are two features you can download to make morning coffees even more enjoyable.  

  • The WaterCooler bot pairs two people together at random to have 5 minutes of conversation.
  •  Donut asks icebreaker questions to spark a new topic of conversation.

bonding-teams-together-with-donut

Again, there are similar Icebreaker bots on apps like Microsoft Teams for employees to socialize. 

2) Implement virtual lunch-and-learn sessions

While it can be quite difficult to galvanize remote workers into eating lunch together, you can host weekly or monthly virtual lunch-and-learn sessions to reel them in. 

To further promote participation, consider offering to reimburse your attendees’ food costs, or even organizing this before lunch work hours (so they can have an actual break afterward).

In a nutshell, lunch-and-learn sessions are optional events that happen during lunch. The events can be on anything, including:

  • People in the marketing team explaining what they do and how the team works
  • Company updates on the milestones achieved
  • Workshops to learn from experts
  • Explaining the product roadmap 
  • Skills development

In these virtual lunch-and-learn sessions, you can either limit participation to a group of employees or allow the whole company to join in.

3) Organize fun water cooler activities

Hosting fun water cooler activities for your employees is another way to effectively get everyone together for a good time. These allow your employees to relax and help build a stronger team. 

There are so many online games and virtual social events for remote employees to play together, but here are some examples you could try:

  • Remote Mafia (Can play on any video call platform). This game involves your team working together and figuring out the identity of each player. Things can get intense, making it a great bonding experience, especially for those who get competitive when playing board games.
  • Skribblo brings out the creativity in everyone. This game is competitive and allows employees to think outside the box.  
  • You can also use Netflix Party to watch shows with colleagues on Netflix completely online. 
  • Organize Happy Hour. There’s nothing wrong with sharing a few drinks with co-workers. It makes for a relaxed and enjoyable setting. All team members can hop onto a video call and start playing trivia games, challenges or just catch-up on life.  

If you want to take this up a notch, consider rewarding employees for participating or winning these games, such as through online vouchers.

Virtual water cooler best practices

If this is your first time creating a virtual water cooler, mistakes are bound to happen – that’s completely normal. However, there are tips to consider ensuring that each water cooler activity serves its purpose in helping employees band together for an enjoyable time.  

#1. Don’t force anything

It’s important to keep everything as casual as possible. That’s what water coolers are – they’re meant to form genuine interest and bonds between team members. As such if an employee doesn’t want to participate in an activity, don’t force them to do so. 

#2. Encourage engagement and participation

That said, you can always offer incentives or rewards to foster participation and engagement in some of these events:

  • Encourage employee engagement in these channels. Make sure the virtual watercooler channels are always flowing with interesting topics to discuss or participate in.
  • Make sure every remote employee is successfully onboarded into your chat platform. They need to feel like they belong within your company’s virtual community to compel them into interacting with the team.
  • Gamify social interactions. Depending on the structure of your remote company, you may want to use Karma on Slack or other systems that allow you to reward employees with points for participating or helping others.

#3. Trial and error

Most likely not every water cooler activity will resonate with the team. That’s why you should keep an eye on the interest and engagement levels during certain activities. You should keep track of this information on Notion or Google Docs for your own reference after each virtual water cooler.

#4. Ask for direct feedback

Sometimes we have to take a step back and allow others to share their own perspectives and opinions. This will help improve virtual water coolers and make sure everyone has a good time.  

  • Surveys. Open a Google Docs file with questions related to the water cooler activities and ask for feedback and suggestions with these questions:
  1. What do you like about the water cooler activities so far?
  2. Which ones don’t you like?
  3. What would you want to see added?

You can also designate a Slack channel to get feedback about water coolers as well.

 

  • Ask During Weekly Team Meetings.

 

To make sure everyone has an opportunity to express their thoughts, think about carving out a portion of a team meeting for feedback on water cooler activities. Jot this information down and take suggestions into consideration.

Creating your virtual water cooler is necessary

In the age of technology, you can bring an authentic water cooler experience to the digital landscape. To better the engagement and productivity levels among team members, take a look through the list of water cooler activities and see which one you want to try out.  

Remote work is here to stay, there’s no doubt about it. As such, implementing these water cooler activities will ensure that every employee has a chance to enjoy, celebrate, and rejoice in the simple pleasures of companionship.  

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