7 Ways to Empower Virtual Water Cooler Talk

Water cooler talk remote.
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If there is one thing many remote employees miss, it’s the unplanned socializing among their colleagues. Being able to catch up with co-workers is commonplace in the office, but that can be challenging to achieve virtually. 

Typically, these social moments are referred to as water cooler talk. And beyond socializing, these interactions often can help strengthen employee engagement, productivity, and creativity. 

While no organization wants employees constantly “shooting the breeze” all day, there is a healthy amount of camaraderie that makes the team bond. And why does this matter? Well according to Gallup, work isolation can curb productivity by up to 21%! 

Below I’ll share the benefits of virtual water cooler conversations and how your company can encourage this practice among remote employees.

Water Cooler Talk and Remote Work

Since remote work means you won’t be seeing your colleagues in person, that close connection is now much more challenging. Of course, if you have a co-working space, you can potentially fill that social need as an employee. 

But with remote work, you may not be working together often and feel less of a “team.” This is where these water cooler moments in remote environments become important. 

Even though the concept came from meeting at the water cooler or coffee machine to socialize, it’s really just about the unplanned communication employees have with one another. 

And in remote work, it’s a great way to better align teams, remove siloes, and create better working relationships.

The virtual water cooler benefits

Since employees might be scattered around cities and countries, the isolation effect is very real for many. It’s why there are so many benefits to implementing water cooler talk components in remote work. 

Here are just a few benefits that can remove barriers your remote company might be facing, 

  • Better sense of belonging.
  • Gets everyone more involved.
  • Improves employee emotional health.
  • Boosts productivity and engagement.
  • Better interactions with management.
  • Increased collaboration among teams.
  • Can help fuel creativity and innovation.  
  • Overall stronger company culture.

7 Ways to Encourage Water Cool Talk Remotely

Woman working remotely.

As we know, not every conversation among employees will be about the company, a project, or a task. And quite frankly that’s okay, especially when employees are taking work breaks

Remote workers no longer have those consistent daily interactions and it can really impact performance. It was found by Harvard Business Review that social time improves team performance and accounts for more than 50% of improvements in communication patterns.

Here are the best ways to empower more conversation and connection among the distributed workforce.

1. Survey how your remote team feels

The first step to better encourage virtual water cool conversations among remote workers is to know how they feel. 

Leadership should be interested in providing anonymous surveys or virtual town halls for feedback. This will be important to understand employees’ views and feelings about their current work life. 

Maybe your organization is already in great communication shape, where employees feel comfortable sharing their opinions. Even if that’s true, don’t forget to take a pulse check on remote workers. 

Opinions and things can change over time, so it’s best to get ahead of any potential challenges that would arise. And this information can then help your company make better decisions about what’s needed to encourage better connection and conversation among employees. 

Plus, when employees feel heard, they start to trust leadership and the culture more. This is always good for productivity and morale within an organization. 

2. Improve overall employee retention.

Today, improving employee retention is about building a solid human connection. And these two stats will indicate why: 

  • Lonely employees have poorer task output and performance than employees who feel welcome and engaged in their company. 
  • Gallup reported that disengaged employees have miserable work experiences, and as much as 15% of employees are actively disengaged in their roles.

This means working on better communication, a place for employees to express their thoughts, increasing team alignment, and providing clear career purpose and goals.

People want to stay with their employers when they feel connected and have more personal experiences. And exactly why virtual water cooler talk should be one focal point for companies that hire remotely

3. Encourage consistent breaks.

For remote water cooler talk to happen, efficient work breaks must be encouraged. When you work from home, taking consistent breaks can be challenging. It’s just super easy to be focused on a project or task and forget to step away from the computer for a bit. 

By having breaks, it gives everyones’ brain and body a break. It’s a good time to recharge and remove the stress you might be feeling. Burnout is very real and can easily creep up during remote work. 

As a company, it’s important to make it clear how much you value employees taking breaks as needed. This can be in the company remote policy, during meetings, or via water cooler chats.

It should be about the quality of work, not always about the number of hours at your desk. If you are looking for more tips, you can see this breakdown of how often to take breaks working from home

4. Adopt technologies to drive better communication. 

Example of the Donut App for Slack.

The beauty of our digital age is there are a number of technologies and online tools that will be useful for driving better water cooler talk remotely. 

But the challenge can be choosing the RIGHT ones for your remote team. Not only is there a plethora of choices, but too many tools can cause further bottlenecks and information overload. 

Here are a few that might be great options for you (if you aren’t using them already): 

  • Slack – Pretty much everyone has heard of Slack, but the platform offers numerous ways to stay connected. You can use this platform for chat, video, channels, apps, and even games that you can connect to your workspace to interact as a team or with co-workers. Careful though, Slack can also be overwhelming and distracting without balance and knowing when to turn notifications off. 
  • Donut – Want your remote team to be able to connect for virtual coffee, learning sessions, or other unique experiences? Then the Slack integration called Donut might be a perfect option. The app has various templates that the app can automatically send to channels, which introduce some fun ways to personally get to know colleagues better. 
  • YAC – A growing and popular tool for remote teams to hold asynchronous voice discussions are YAC. With this platform, colleagues can send each other voice messages to look at their leisure, react to messages, and screen share. Plus, it’s easy to set up virtual rooms (1:1 or groups) to catch up, talk about upcoming weekend plans, or just get to know one another. 
  • Kona – Another awesome Slack integration is Kona which creates better check-ins with employees to drive engagement and improve morale. This can replace the need for surveys if you’d like, makes it easier and more efficient to get pulse checks, and features for better collaboration. 

5. Harness an async communication strategy.

In the tip above about consistent breaks, I mentioned that work should be about quality, not the number of hours sitting at your desk. Well, along with that is asynchronous communication, or “async” as it is typically shortened. 

This concept involves exchanging information among co-workers without expecting an immediate response. Following this process, it encourages better work and fewer interruptions that disturb the productivity of others. 

And this strategy is good for water cooler talk because employees won’t feel disrupted constantly. They can respond or create times to connect that are best for them 

You can send updates, messages, voice notes, screen shares, check-ins, and any other information whenever it suits you best. And the recipient can respond in their own time and on their terms

6. Host virtual company social events.

While in-person events might be more fun, it doesn’t mean you can’t have quality virtual company events either. These can encourage more social connections and improve team bonding. 

Now, this is where your company wants to get a bit creative. Naturally, you can’t force employees to join and you don’t want lame events either. 

I’ve participate in virtual coffee break and virtual team lunches too.

For example, at my last company that I worked at, we had a paid-for lunch by the company and random breakout Zoom video rooms with six or seven other colleagues.

From there we have a list of games, trivia, or icebreakers we can also ask each other. It’s been a lot of fun and hey, who doesn’t love a free lunch right? 

7. Create fun challenges for your team.

A very common idea to boost remote water cooler talk is organizing challenges for your team. These can be fun ways to get your team to bond and create some healthy competition. 

These challenges can have prizes or it’s just friendly in getting to “humble brag” for winning. But there is plenty of ideas you can explore here. A few that come to mind include:

Mix it up or take a vote to see what remote employees would be interested in most. All of these can be done through video or keeping track via a communication channel. And these don’t have to be done at certain times, employee can participate when it’s ideal for them. 

Final Thoughts

Phew! That was probably a bit of information to digest. But virtual water cooler talk is not just wasteful time that disrupts productivity.

Instead, by formulating a plan and empowering your company to stay social with each other, you’ll find better working relationships, reduced isolation, and improved happiness and productivity among remote employees. 

Naturally, work collaboration chats and water cooler talk are different, but both of these concepts have important benefits for your remote team. 

Remember, you don’t want to try and force water cool talk and other team-building activities. But you want to lead by example and provide opportunities for those to participate as they see fit. 

Happy Remote Working! 

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About Todd Kunsman

Todd is the founder of Remote Work Junkie and has been featured in numerous publications like Business Insider, HuffPost, CNBC, and more. He’s been a remote work advocate for close to a decade and has been working remotely full-time for 5+ years. He’s also a marketing, personal finance, and music nerd 🤓

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