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Does Your Company Have a Virtual Water Cooler?

One of the drawbacks of remote work is the lack of in-person interactions. When ‘the office’ means anything from a coffee shop to a home office, coworkers might not ever share the same space. This makes it difficult to form relationships at work – unless your company has a virtual water cooler to foster socialization.

What Is a Virtual Water Cooler?

A virtual office water cooler is a digital alternative for traditional workplace water cooler interactions – those purely social conversations that people use to get to know one another.

The virtual water cooler is an important part of building a strong remote work culture and a must-have for remote and hybrid teams. Whether it’s the weather, plans for the weekend, or the conversation that opens a window into someone’s personal story, water cooler talk brings coworkers together and lets everyone take a mental break from work.

Why Is a Virtual Office Water Cooler Important?

When former office workers were asked what they miss about the office, 45 percent of respondents said they missed social connections, and 44 percent said they missed human contact in general.

With a virtual environment that exists purely to foster social interactions, remote coworkers can interact, learn about one another, and make up for some of the human connections that are lost when people don’t commute to the office every workday.

This social bonding can also be good for things like collaboration and digital employee experience.

One study that looked at the effect of remote work on collaboration and communication during the pandemic found that company-wide remote work can lead to siloed collaboration networks and an increase in asynchronous communication. Essentially, people aren’t working together – at the same time and of the same mind. That makes it harder to bounce ideas off one another, brainstorm, and generally be on the same page when it comes to projects and processes.

That means remote and hybrid organizations need to take the extra step to foster collaboration and connection, even if it’s virtual.

There is research showing that working collectively on tasks boosts performance. Employees are more productive, more engaged, and more motivated.

And the glue to creating this collaborative, collective environment is informal conversations. When researchers looked for the top predictors of productivity among teams, they found that the magic that drives team success comes from the energy and engagement that happens outside of formal meetings.

Basically, people need to bond to be able to work together well as a team. And the office water cooler is one way to help people bond, whether they share an office space from nine to five every day or work in different corners of the world.

What You Need to Create a Virtual Water Cooler

The goal of the virtual office water cooler is to provide a digital space for coworkers to socialize. It encourages taking a break from work to converse on topics that aren’t work-related.

Here’s what you need to set one up:

1. Collaborative Platform

You’ll need a digital platform to create a digital water cooler or break room space. You can use your video conferencing tool or other internal communications system to set up a room or channel for water cooler conversations. The idea is to have a place where people can interact both synchronously and asynchronously.

2. Topic Ideas to Spark Conversation

For a virtual social space, you’ll want to set up conversation starters. You can do this by creating multiple channels for different conversations. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • A virtual fridge is a great place to talk about favorite meals and restaurants – this type of channel is perfect for foodies.
  • A virtual workout room can be a place to talk about fitness goals and encourage one another to keep up with their exercise routines.
  • A virtual bookshelf is great for sharing favorite books and asking for book ideas.
  • A virtual game room can be a place for icebreakers, jokes, and games.
  • A virtual coffee house can be used when coworkers want to get together for a video meeting to chat face to face. Coworkers can set up times to meet in groups and take a break during the workday.

3. Clear Process

The beauty of the virtual water cooler is that it can be anything. Your company can create a single channel for socializing. It can be a group chat, a place to share ideas and pictures, or a group video meeting.

But, because the possibilities are endless, some employees might not know how to approach the virtual water cooler concept. That’s where a clear process and guidelines come in handy. When people know what to expect, they’re more likely to participate. 

When you create a virtual water cooler, invite people to join it with an email or another form of communication. In that message, include an explanation of what the goal of the water cooler channel is, what it’s for, and ideas for how to use it.

And to jumpstart your company’s virtual water cooler, designate someone to start posting and to host different games and icebreakers.

Once the conversation starts going, keep it going. Encourage people to share photos, ask each other questions, and set up times to meet with one another. Set up periodic games, puzzles, or fun challenges to get people involved. The more interaction, the more opportunities for team-building and bonding.

Help Your Remote Teams Work Better Together with a Virtual Office Water Cooler

A virtual space for socializing can help to bring your teams together and foster better collaboration. And, with the right communications platform, creating a virtual water cooler is easy.

With Intermedia Unite, employees can video chat, send messages, set up group channels, and more, all from one place. Learn more about how Intermedia Unite can help your remote or hybrid teams.

About Mariel Santos

Mariel Santos is the Director of Marketing Communications at Intermedia