How to recreate water cooler moments in a virtual working environment

Katya Linossi, CEO, ClearPeople

being a successful virtual leader, video call, working from homeCasual interactions are a natural way to connect with friends, family and colleagues, this is especially true when in an office environment.

Whether it’s grabbing a coffee in the kitchen first thing, or throwing around concepts over the office water cooler, some of the most creative business ideas have come from these meets.

Dubbed as ‘water cooler moments’, these interactions have been responsible for ensuring employee synergy, happiness and even productivity over the years. However, with the Coronavirus pandemic having changed the way we all interact, these moments have become increasingly difficult to recreate and replicate. There are ways to ensure staff are still benefiting from these moments, albeit if they occur online.

Think about the fundamentals

Now businesses have realised remote working is no longer a temporary option, especially given the second lockdown which has just been announced in the UK, it’s important for them to start thinking practically about how ‘water cooler moments’ can be recreated.

Before looking at the specifics of what employees need, it’s vital to ensure your business has the fundamentals in place.

What do I need to consider?

Firstly, you need to think of the people. Are they set up to work effectively, and is there anything stopping them from getting their jobs done? If so, ‘water cooler moments’ aren’t going to fix this alone, and policies and practices need to be put in place to sort this immediately.

Secondly, your business will need the right technology in place. This isn’t just about having the right hardware, or ensuring teams have fast, reliable WiFi, it’s about making sure your business is providing the right tools for your employees to be successful in their jobs.

A businesses’ culture also needs to be open and transparent to support digital moments. Added to this, it’s vital to have leaders who are not only supportive and empathetic, but remain visible and accessible despite the fact they’re working from a different physical location to their team.

Processes are also important and organisations can’t just take habits from the office and think they apply to working remotely. For example, meetings can’t be run the same as they used to. Instead, all company meetings should, by default, be virtual so there is no two-tier workforce approach.

In short, there is no point in introducing a new technology or project and expecting it to be adopted if you don’t plan and implement the right processes and involve the right people. This thinking must also be applied to remote working.

Overhearing knowledge

It’s important for teams to think about which moments have helped them the most and which are missed most from the office; is it learning something new by overhearing a conversation? The office chit chat? The ability to share your opinions and ideas easily? While some need isolation to be productive, others thrive from that camaraderie.

By understanding what exactly employees miss from the office, businesses can look to naturally and successfully recreate these moments online. In a recent survey, we asked professionals which water cooler moments they missed the most, finding 57% miss ‘overhearing conversations to learn news things’, and 27% citing ‘quick answers to their questions due to having people around them’.

When looking specifically at conversations being overheard as a means to learning, it’s all about knowledge sharing. How exactly can businesses look to recreate natural ways of knowledge sharing now everyone is working from home? Here are some ideas:

  • Promote regular cross departmental meetings, with a focus on sharing know how or to work on a specific task
  • Plan for a monthly online knowledge sharing session with the whole company
  • Create structured ways for your team to share useful insights, perhaps via Microsoft Teams, or a digital workspace
  • Use tools like the icebreaker bot in Microsoft Teams, or open source tools like Minglr to set up meetings between random people
  • Implement weekly online coffee catch-ups. This could be amongst any team member no matter their seniority and it’s important there is no agenda

Businesses should also seriously look at implementing, or using their digital workspaces to enhance knowledge sharing. More than just an intranet or communication platform, a digital workspace enhances collaboration by connecting colleagues, enabling easy access to information and connected data silos.

The most important thing for businesses to do however, is to listen to their teams and to try different approaches. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to recreating water cooler moments, and so there will be trial and error to see which works best for your organisation.


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