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How to Create Virtual Water Cooler Talk When Your Team Works Remotely

Discover virtual water cooler ideas to use with your remote employees, so you can still connect without being in the same space.

#Work-Life Balance
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Everyone has heard of water cooler moments. 

The globally practiced workplace culture refers to unstructured, spontaneous conversations between employees that happen face to face, typically around a water cooler, but also in other locations around the physical office.

These carefree instances of employee connection help enhance company culture, create a sense of belonging, and improve morale.

However, with remote work levels increasing from 5% pre-pandemic to 29.5% in August 2022, opportunities for water cooler moments have gone down the drain, impacting how remote workers connect and interact with one another.

3 benefits of virtual water cooler conversation

1. Improve morale and employee engagement

Researchers at UC Santa Cruz have found that spontaneous small talk has a significant impact on environments where people work together on a task, such as an office setting or place of work. 

Their research found that people have a strong preference for balanced conversations, where each person can share their two cents. 

However, when people work together on a task requiring a leader to direct an employee, this balance is thrown because the leader will do most of the talking. 

To remedy this, they suggest creating unstructured interactions to provide air time for the other person. This is known as “reciprocity in conversation” and it helps balance the scales of interaction in the workplace, leading to higher levels of enjoyment. 

And when remote teams and individuals feel happy in the workplace, this increases employee engagement.

2. Spark ideas in an unstructured environment

Rather than expect creativity to flow in a two-hour meeting, water cooler moments allow employees to bounce ideas around in an unstructured environment.

This more casual, spontaneous conversation can help foster new ideas and inspiration, which helps support innovation and growth.

3. Create connection and collaboration

In the virtual space, there are more tools and operational structures in play. This overload can make it easy for employees to become siloed, preventing the free flow of information and ideas across teams and departments. 

When this happens, communication decreases, and collaboration becomes more difficult, hindering productivity. 

By introducing a virtual water cooler, you provide an opportunity for meaningful connection and a space for employees to form stronger relationships and bonds.

Ready to get started? 👉 Meet your team at Confetti's Water Cooler
Virtual Water Cooler by Confetti

How to create a virtual water cooler

Creating spontaneous moments when teams work remotely is challenging because it’s (obviously) a lot more difficult to bump into someone by the water cooler and have a casual conversation.

Try these suggestions to encourage virtual water cooler moments in your workplace.

Provide online space for hangouts

For impromptu conversations to occur, people need to be in the same space, whether virtually or in real-time. 

Instead of forcing employees to join a video call, use an instant messaging service like Slack to create different channels based on different interests. This provides teams with a space for spontaneous, asynchronous conversation on topics they have in common. 

For example, you could set up Microsoft Teams or Slack channels dedicated to Dungeons & Dragons, swimming, sourdough, improv, weekly water cooler trivia, or any interest (no matter how niche) and encourage employees to join each channel based on their preferences and interests.

If setting up multiple channels is too labor-intensive, establish a general #Watercooler channel to let the water cooler conversation flow naturally.

Start one-on-ones with a question

Your one-on-ones can easily become virtual water coolers with a question. For example, what was the last book you read? Where would you like to travel next? Or what album are you currently listening to?

This open question creates space for small talk and a water cooler conversation while also allowing the manager-employee relationship to develop on a more personal level and grow beyond the natural day-to-day flow of work.

Hold one-off team building events

Hosting virtual team building events gives employees a chance to bond and provides opportunities for casual conversation and water cooler moments. The good news is that you don’t need to be an expert at creating and executing these virtual team-building events: Here at Confetti, we can do that for you!

It also helps build relationships and trust between different team members or across departments. For example, you could host a cooking class, escape room, or virtual Pictionary and encourage team members to actively participate.

If you’re struggling to get people involved, add a fun theme to your team building events. For example, Mental Health Awareness Month, May the 4th/Star Wars, or Pride Month to see if this improves participation levels.

Surprise gifts, delivered to homes 

Reward your team members and recognize significant accomplishments by sending them a gift delivered to their home. This will help them know that they’re valued and making a positive impact on the company while improving employee happiness

Gifts for employees might sound a little cliche, but who wouldn’t want to receive a surprise flower delivery?

Take a note from Sweden

In Europe, the Swedes have a tradition called ‘fika,’ a daily afternoon ritual where employees gather for casual conversations and enjoy time away from their desks and work responsibilities. Sometimes, coffee and pastries are served.

However, fika differs from coffee breaks, which are led by the idea of stopping to drink a hot beverage. In contrast, fika is more about developing a human connection and spending time with people you work closely with.

Hold a virtual fika at a set time and location every day to help employees bond with each other and develop deeper relationships and connections.

Schedule it at a time that overlaps the majority of your employees' time zones to ensure everyone gets to enjoy the opportunity to connect with team members. Use a tool like Zoom to create an open conference room where people can bring their own coffee and cakes and mingle. 

If fika is a little too European for your taste, set up a coffee club via Slack instead to create a virtual water cooler moment.

Use the WaterCooler bot to pair two random employees together on a call and provide an opportunity for them to take five minutes out of their day to chat with one another over a quick cup of coffee.

Virtual water cooler chat: your key to engagement and growth 💬

You don’t want your water cooler moments to come across as too forced, which could put people off participating. The aim is to help employees form genuine, authentic relationships based on commonalities and shared interests. 

This will help improve employee engagement and provide opportunities for innovative conversation away from the more structured aspects of performance management.

Remember: not every water cooler activity will resonate with each employee, and that’s okay! Use a tool like 15Five to gather employee feedback to assess where opportunities lie to engage employees individually to ensure workplace happiness.
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