Whether it’s an actual watercooler, the kitchen’s hardworking Keurig machine, or the breakroom foosball table, these workplace retreats give employees a place to congregate, shoot the breeze, and engage in non-work-related chatter.
While animated discussions about Game of Thrones or Netflix might seem antithetical to rise-and-grind culture, in reality, “watercooler talk” is crucial to the success of businesses.
Far from being detrimental to productivity, studies show that casual workplace conversation and no-pressure socializing yields a multitude of benefits, including increased productivity and collaboration, the establishment of trust between employees, and strengthened team building and engagement. Not only do the mental and physical breaks help boost cognitive function, but they ultimately lead to a stronger, more united, and well-connected team that produces better work and better ideas. It’s true!
Never has the power of watercooler talk been more necessary than now. As business teams adapt to remote-work environments in the wake of global health concerns, enjoying the benefits of casual workplace conversation (even in a virtual setting) should be a high priority. But how do we build rapport in an entirely digital world?
Let’s discuss (over a mid-day coffee break, perhaps?).
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10 Ways You Can Manufacture Watercooler Moments Remotely
As you’ve swapped ties and slacks for your comfy sweats and house slippers, your usual 9-to-5 schedule is probably looking a little different these days. Outfitted at your makeshift desk with your favorite at-home coffee mug (and now an ever-present bottle of hand sanitizer), you’re bringing the office home — for the foreseeable future.
We’d venture to guess a couple things as you’re adapting to this new normal.
- You’ve probably already blown through your quarantine snacks. Trust us, you’re not the only one.
- You’re probably getting some pretty bad cabin fever and feeling the social isolation as you work from home while complying with unprecedented social-distancing guidelines.
Since you are not engaging IRL with your team on a daily basis or running into each other in the lunchroom, it can become really easy to simply do your work, disregarding the necessary interaction and team-building of the workplace.
So how can your newly-remote team keep morale high and strengthen engagement while working separately in your own individual homes? As a leader, you can be intentional about making these important moments happen. Let us share a few ways how.
1. Play Games
Get the ball rolling by infusing team meetings and communications with ice breakers, trivia, or other fun, casual games. Whether you’re using Slack or another team collaboration tool, use it to interject fun asides into the workday that break up the monotony and bring humor and fun.
2. Make Time for Small Talk
Conversations with coworkers don’t have to be all work and no play. Leaders should intentionally create the time and space for de-stressing with non-work-related banter. By initiating casual discussion, you not only get to know your colleagues better, but you provide needed physical and mental breaks. Actively encouraging and participating in these kinds of conversations help build trust, unity, and inclusion.
- Try introducing team members virtually. Conduct spotlights or round-robin, get-to-know-you questions.
- Highlight birthdays with rousing video chat versions of “happy birthday” (after all, you should be getting lots of singing practice with all that hand washing you’re doing, right?).
- Chronicle your weekends: What at-home activities did you do? What was your last great Netflix binge? What funny thing did your kids say? Thoughts on that viral video making the rounds on social media?
Start the convo and embrace the beneficial small talk. Make it a necessary part of each day, and your culture as a whole — creativity and innovation increases when people feel like they can interact freely.
3. Using Google Hangouts to Swap Skills
You might be surprised at what talents your coworkers have hidden under their belts. Use video calls to host employee-led classes, letting team members teach others a skill, like baking bread, harvesting honey, or doing watercolor paintings.
There’s a lot of cool technology out there that can connect you with people everywhere and grant you essential face time with your team — it’s time to take advantage of it! Also, it’s just nice to see facial expressions and body language after quarantining all alone with your screen.
Plus, you’ll be having fun and learning more about your employees while helping foster shared experiences and socialization that engenders a positive work-life balance. What’s more, understanding (and keeping notes on) the not-so-visible-at-work talents of your team members can help you utilize their skills to better your business in the future. These are major wins.
4. Host a Virtual Team Book Club
Less time commuting to and from the office means more time for making a dent in your To-Be-Read list. Join together with coworkers to host a virtual book club, swapping ideas and thoughts on non-work-related (but still significant) topics. Who knows, you might keep it up in-person when you’re all back at the office!
5. Create (Good) Competition
Whether you’re voting on who has the cutest pet or who wins the Washing-Your-Hands Dance Challenge, give your team a little boost by fostering work and non-work-related competition that keeps things exciting.
Try swapping typing-test WPM scores, making funny memes, playing charades with emojis only, battling over reality-tv-show-contestant brackets, sharing your best wastebasket toss, creating and voting on the best lip sync video, or battling it out on brain teasers.
6. Openly Give Kudos
Establish a virtual space on your team communication channels where team members can display and applaud the good work of other employees. Fostering praise helps team members feel appreciated and motivated; plus, this fun socialization practice helps your team remain unified — no matter the physical distance that separates you.
7. Team Up Like-Minded People
Are there fitness-minded employees on your team? What about cat lovers? Bibliophiles?
Create opportunities for team members to branch off and chat with others about shared interests. A dedicated channel on Slack can allow health gurus to swap recipes or workout tips, foodies to talk must-visit restaurants, or feline fanatics to share the best cat videos. If appropriate, help team members connect with each other on their own social channels.
Getting team members to connect personally and engage with others in dedicated spaces (especially about things they’re interested in) increases feelings of togetherness and engagement. Feel the bond.
8. Encourage Healthy Habits
The transition to less formal, remote work might mean some employees aren’t taking their lunch-break walks or sticking to a regular sleep schedule. Take time in meetings to emphasize the importance of reducing stress and caring for yourself, physically and mentally.
That might mean doing short meditations together, stopping brainstorming sessions to stretch together, or mandating a water break. Demonstrating that you care for the well-being of your team builds trust.
Plus, prioritizing health will benefit your business as a whole. Happy workers = successful business.
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9. Host Themed Events.
Every week, create themes on your communication channels to encourage fun interactions. Swap funny photos on a Wacky Hair themed workday, or compare best April Fools’ jokes on the 1st. These kinds of virtual group events can allow conversations to be more personal and fun.
10. Get in the Groove.
Most employees already have a habit of tuning into music at work. Join in (and encourage a positive work-life quality) by offering a company-wide subscription to a music streaming service like Spotify or Apple Music.
Swap playlists with your team, vote on the best Justin (Bieber vs. Timberlake), and share favorite tunes. Music taste is another excellent way to get to know your team!
Social distancing doesn’t have to mean social isolation, especially in the workplace. Forget working in a vacuum — small talk equals big benefits, even virtually. Keep the morale and productivity of your team high as you intentionally foster one-of-a-kind watercooler moments from your at-home workspace.
And hey, now there’s no need to refill those painfully-heavy office water jugs! Bonus?