How to Create a Virtual Water Cooler & Why Encourage It

By Hani Khan
Virtual water cooler - two female employees sitting across from each other and having a conversation
Can you recall the last time you chatted with your coworkers about something non-work related such as their weekend plans, the last show they binge-watched, or even the weather? It might be time to reconnect and get to know your fellow colleagues in a more personal way to build connections, relationships, and even help yourself relax without the focus being on work. 

What is Water Cooler Chat?

You may have seen the term water cooler chat floating around on our blog for a while now but ever stop to wonder what that actually means? Water cooler chat, talk, conversation, or however you choose to refer to it means to take a break from work and socialize with your coworkers in a casual manner. The conversation tends to drift away from the typical work talk and focuses more on helping employees relax and acquaint themselves with their coworkers in a personal way. The term originates from coworkers typically running into each other at the water cooler or more commonly the coffee machine, break room, or work kitchen. 

Typically, water cooler talk generates negative connotations with the image of coworkers gossiping but it’s much more than that now with casual conversations about TV shows, sports, local events, or even the weather. These light-hearted conversations help build bonds across teams and strengthen company culture

How to create a Virtual Water Cooler

With the onset of the pandemic and the current remote work situation, it’s a little harder to build organic connections. There’s no running into someone in the break room, grabbing lunch with coworkers, or the random conversations floating through the office. With the lack of social connections, employees are feeling more disconnected than ever from their organizations. Managers, Internal Communicators, and HR teams need to find different watts to energize employees that is productive and fit in with the company’s culture but also satisfy the social need.

Digital Communication Tools

Provide your team with various ways to communicate with their coworkers that doesn’t involve just email. Chat services are an informal way to connect with each other and not only a great way to have speedy work conversations but allow coworkers to have informal conversations with one another. 

When your entire workforce is working remotely, it’s inevitable that employees will begin to feel uncertain about where they stand. Modern intranets help provide a source of truth for critical information and create a virtual water cooler effect that strengthens company culture, identity, and social connections.

Informal Team Breaks

Most people are inundated with meetings and video calls after video calls due to the nature of remote work. Create time with your team to have a chance to just catch up and indulge in casual conversations rather than focus on work for those 30 minutes. While it may seem like you’re adding another meeting to the calendar, it allows employees to take a much-needed break and bond with one another without stress. 

This method creates a fun environment for employees and managers to interact and overall encourages higher employee engagement leading them to be happier. 

Virtual Team Bonding Activities/Happy Hours

The need for human interaction is natural and in a virtual world, it has grown even stronger. While there are some activities that require extensive planning and perhaps a budget from the finance team, there are some fun free ideas that allow teams to connect such as book clubs, trivia night, and even virtual team lunches. 

A lot of organizations have started connecting over virtual happy hours since teams aren’t able to go out after work for a drink. It’s not necessarily about what you’re doing but who you’re bonding and creating shared connections with. 

What are the Benefits of Water Cooler Talk in the Workplace?

 A major part of any workplace is working in a friendly, supportive, and communicative environment. Employees want to fit in and create friendships with fellow coworkers with which they spend the majority of their day. Employee engagement is crucial to a company’s success and is a great method of not only retaining current talent but attracting new people to the organization. 

Builds Company Culture

A strong company culture is key to company growth and unifies employees to work towards a common goal. Culture thrives off of strong employee engagement where water cooler talk comes in. It’s important to encourage employees to interact and communicate with their fellow coworkers on a personal level. Happy employees are good employees.

Improves Employee Retention

People stay at jobs and companies when they feel comfortable or have established friendships there. Water cooler talk plays a small role in helping build a supportive and comfortable work environment. Organizations do not want a high turnover rate – not only for optics reasons but time, money, and energy is spent on finding a replacement. Creating an environment of happy and productive employees helps build up the retention rate. 

Improves cross-departmental collaboration

Interacting with employees across departments is very hard and rare to come by but casual conversations help enhance the relationship. Often times, non-work conversations drift into work-related topics which can lead to cross-team support and collaboration. By gaining insights into what each other is working on sparks new ideas and can make a huge difference. 

Increases creativity and productivity

When employees get a chance to talk to each other without the pressure of work, great ideas emerge! Casual conversations can spark new thoughts and allows for on-the-spot brainstorm sessions to create new solutions. It also improves workplace productivity by allowing people to de-stress and come back to work with a fresh mindset. 

Unites Employees together

People spend the majority of their day at work surrounded by their colleagues and managers. Other than family, the workplace is essential to the health and happiness of employees. The friendships that get built up at the water cooler helps improve the quality of life at work. There’s an increase in employee morale and engagement. 

Having a fun, comfortable, and engaging work environment is essential to a company’s success and growth. Water cooler talk encourages employees to build personal connections and actually get to know each other without the pressure of work. As employees build relationships with their colleagues, their motivation and productivity increases.

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