A guest post written by Luke Petit from Remote-How.
When working in an office environment, the watercooler can often act as a focal point for informal chats between colleagues. Plans for the weekend, sport or the weather all help provide some relaxation and bonding time during a busy day. The benefits of these small conversations are well known. Increases in productivity are common among workers who spend time socialising with their peers, those in management become more personalised and people get time to de-stress. Mini brainstorming sessions can also occur as people bounce ideas off one another in a less formal environment.
So with all these benefits it really makes sense to nurture and support the idea of having watercooler moments. However, how do you get to do this when you have no physical office? Luckily for fully or partly distributed companies, there are a number of tools and techniques that can be implemented to allow for such casual moments. You can still create a casual and relaxed environment for people to let off some steam, get to know one another and foster cohesion within your remote workforce.
Make it part of your company culture
By making informal conversation part of your company culture from the start, you’ll find that people are more open and receptive to engage with their colleagues. It can be as simple as asking at the start of the day what people got up to the night before. As remoters, a lot of people will be traveling or working from exotic locations! Usually, there is something exciting to talk about. More often than not, when asked people are more than willing to engage and open up. This still holds up even for those working from home. When working in a managerial position, it can really help if you become the spark for these watercooler moments. When your employees see that you actively participate and encourage such conversation, they’re much more likely to join in.
Utilise instant messaging tools
Most remote companies are now using a multitude of tools to make sure that people are in direct contact with each other. Asynchronous communication is, of course, useful and emails are still part of most people’s daily communication, but it’s difficult to create watercooler moments through this channel. Whether you’re using Slack, Asana or some other tool, make sure to create a social channel within the program for people to have more relaxed and casual conversations. The ability to use gifs and emojis can also really help bring emotion into what people are writing too.
Have a video call
Get on a video call and don’t always just message your colleagues! There are of course obvious benefits when being able to communicate in a quicker and more fluid manner for work. Video conferencing also allows for more natural conversation and can help create watercooler moments. Being able to see the other person and their facial expressions is as close to a co-located office experience as you can get when working remotely. This can seem much more natural than feeling like you need to make a post or message in a dedicated water cooler channel.
Plan group activities or calls
Most people are used to having stand-ups, retrospectives and team meetings as part of their weekly schedule, so why not allow some time per week for a group activity? This could just be a catch up letting people what you’ve been up to outside of work once a week, some kind of game or maybe a discussion about the latest TV series that everyone has been watching. By creating collective experiences, people have some kind of commonality to talk about. With people from many different nationalities all living in different countries working together, it can be expected that sometimes you won’t have that much in common. So if this is the case, create those common experiences that everyone will then have to talk about.
Get people to connect personally
Probably more often than not, most of your remote team will already use some kind of social media. While not everyone wants to fully connect their personal life with their work, it can be beneficial in seeing the more human side of a colleague. When linked together through social media, a profile picture change or snap of a recent holiday can help spark conversation. The most natural watercooler moments come from genuine interest! This solution, of course, isn’t suitable for everyone, but for those who don’t mind, it can really help create that genuine informal chat that the water cooler is all about.
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