My shopping cart
Your cart is currently empty.Continue Shopping
Social time during the workday is responsible for over 50 percent of improvements in communication in the workplace. Could your remote team be struggling because they’re missing out on casual social time, often referred to as water cooler talk?
Now that more people are working from home, casual conversations and impromptu meetings are far less common than they once were. This is unfortunate because these meetups create unique communication channels and build stronger connections between co-workers.
Can we still have these unique channels in the virtual world? Yes!
Read on to learn more about the value of virtual water cooler talk. You’ll also get some examples of how you can encourage water cooler conversation while working remotely.
The term “water cooler talk” refers to casual discussions that take place between co-workers about subjects unrelated to work.
“Water cooler talk” gets its name from a time when employees all worked together at the same place and had a water cooler that they gathered around when they needed to get a drink, take a break from their desks, and decompress. Even in offices that don’t have water coolers, there’s typically still a gathering place for team members to get together and chat, such as around the coffee maker or in the kitchen.
Water cooler talk sometimes has a negative connotation associated with it. Some people hear the term and think about their colleagues gossiping or slacking off while they’re supposed to be working.
True, they can get out of control in some situations. However, these casual conversations, which can cover everything from the weather to the latest episode of The Bachelor, are generally more beneficial than they are harmful, even when they don’t take place in person.
Last year, many people found themselves working remotely instead of in a traditional office setting. Since then, a lot of companies have decided to switch to full-time remote work.
There are plenty of benefits to remote work, but the lack of water-cooler conversation isn’t one of them. Here are some reasons why teams ought to find new ways to work water cooler conversations into their day, even if they don’t have an actual water cooler to gather around:
It’s funny how you can work with someone for years and never know that much about them beyond their job responsibilities and the type of work they do.
Water cooler talk allows workers to get to know each other on a more personal level. They can chat about topics other than their latest projects, which helps to strengthen their relationships and build trust.
When relationships between co-workers improve, this also leads to more collaboration in the workplace. Because team members feel more comfortable talking to each other about a variety of topics, they may feel more comfortable speaking up during meetings and addressing issues as soon as they arise.
Water cooler talk can improve workers’ sense of creativity, too.
When someone is stuck at their desk for hours at a time, they may find that, eventually, they hit a wall and can’t think of anything new. Rather than puzzling over the same problem for several more hours, taking a break and heading to the water cooler allows them to give their brains a rest.
Switching focus and chatting with a co-worker for a few minutes can be a great refresher. It gives workers a chance to distance themselves from a project for a short time. This can help them break through that wall and feel more creative when they get back to their desks.
It’s neither healthy nor realistic to expect workers to sit at their desks for 8 hours per day without getting up, taking breaks, and resting their brains.
Daily water cooler talk helps workers to create more balance between their regular lives and their work lives. It can reduce feelings of stress, burnout, and overwhelm, all of which can wreak havoc on a worker’s engagement, productivity, and performance.
In other words, when team leaders encourage breaks and non-work-related conversations, their teams tend to perform better and get more done.
Water cooler talk doesn’t just improve relationships between co-workers. It also improves relationships between workers and their managers or supervisors. Everyone needs a break now and then, including those in leadership roles.
When managers and supervisors get involved in water cooler talk, they humanize themselves to their team members and have a chance to build stronger relationships with them. This helps to foster trust and increases the likelihood that team members will come to higher-ups and ask for help or advice when needed.
If you and your team are working from home, consider setting up a virtual water cooler. This allows you all to experience the benefits of water cooler talk even when you’re all working remotely.
Here are some ideas for creating a virtual water cooler for your team:
One of the easiest ways to create a virtual water cooler is to use a team chat app. These apps allow you to set up group discussions so team members can easily send messages back and forth to one another.
One of the most popular team chat apps is Slack. Team leaders can set up a “Water Cooler” Slack channel that’s dedicated to casual conversations and then invite everyone on the team to use it.
Microsoft Teams is another good choice. It’s especially popular for larger organizations that are broken down into smaller teams.
Virtual meeting software can also be useful for virtual water cooler talks. Tools like Zoom and Skype allow team members to chat face-to-face about anything their hearts desire.
The only downside, though, is that it can be a bit cumbersome to send out invites and get everyone involved in the virtual meeting. Regularly scheduling “water cooler breaks” during the day can help with this issue and allow workers to plan accordingly.
Some teams also prefer to create a social media group for their team on a platform like LinkedIn or Facebook instead.
Social media groups are fun because workers can send all kinds of messages to each other, including memes, GIFs, videos, and other fun media that can boost morale. They also allow the option for private messaging between workers for those who don’t want to share everything with the entire group.
Some team members may be hesitant about this option because of privacy concerns. For these people, consider creating separate social media accounts just for the group.
It’s great to set up a virtual water cooler for yourself and your team. How do you get people to actually use it, though?
The following are some ideas for virtual water cooler activities that can encourage everyone to take a break and blow off some steam:
Ice breaker questions are a great way to get conversations started between team members. Team leaders should take the initiative here and get the ball rolling by asking daily questions.
These questions can range from silly “would you rather” questions to questions about the TV shows everyone is enjoying. As long as it’s appropriate for the workplace, anything is fair game.
Team leaders should also make an effort to invite people into the conversation who might not normally join. If there are team members who seem hesitant to engage in virtual water cooler talk, perhaps the manager or supervisor can message them privately to see how they’re doing or tag them in a relevant post.
For remote workers, guessing games with pictures are a fun way for everyone to get to know one another. For example, team members can take a picture of their desk setup and send them to the team leader, who then posts them to the group one by one and asks everyone to guess whose desk is whose.
Lots of people love trivia games, too. Consider a virtual trivia game like Thriver or QuizUp to get everyone involved and allow them to blow off some steam while still using their brains (just in different ways).
The great thing about remote work is that our pets are never far from us.
Invite team members to join a virtual meeting and show off their furry friends, or ask them to submit pictures. Who doesn’t want to see cute pictures of cats and dogs to help them de-stress during the workday?
Whether it takes place next to a physical water cooler or in a virtual space, water cooler talk can have a positive impact on workers’ productivity, relationships with team members, and sense of morale.
Are you ready to set up a virtual water cooler for yourself and your team? Keep the tips and activity suggestions listed above in mind so you can start enjoying the benefits today.