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How to Create a Virtual Water Cooler for Your Digital Workspace

Does your digital workspace have a virtual water cooler?

There's a reason why 97% of remote employees want to continue working from home for the rest of their career. When all you need is a decent PC and an internet phone line to achieve a better work/life balance, it's not surprising that employees are embracing remote work and all of the benefits it has to offer.

work-remotely-chart 

Image sourced from buffer.com

But if there's one thing that working remotely doesn't naturally provide, it's casual water cooler conversation.

In the traditional workplace, teams don't just talk about work. They discuss their interests, chat about their day, share some laughs, and engage in the kind of impromptu camaraderie that defines office culture.

These informal but critically important conversations occur organically in the breakroom, by the coffee machine, in the car park, and-yep, you guessed it-by the water cooler.

What is a virtual water cooler?

A virtual water cooler is a digital solution that enables a virtual water cooler conversation. Using cloud communications solutions like video conferencing and messaging platforms, businesses can provide a digital space for employees to discuss their interests, share funny memes, talk about current events, and so on.

Remember, remote employee management isn't just about coordinating and overseeing tasks. As a manager, one of your most pressing priorities is to create a healthy work environment that has a positive impact on your employee's mental health.

This involves promoting healthy communication, building team community, and encouraging employees to take time to unwind and destress.

The benefits of making a virtual water cooler

Without a virtual water cooler, remote teams can struggle to forge relationships.

In the office, we all initially dread the awkward waiting-for-the-lift or standing-by-the-coffee-machine conversations that occur with coworkers. However, these interactions lay the foundation for our integration into the office community. They enable us to build positive relationships and strengthen our sense of friendship and united team community.

But what happens when there's nowhere for these natural conversations to occur?

According to a recent study by Buffer, 24% of employees struggle with loneliness when working remotely. 17% struggle with communication and collaboration. And 52% say that they feel less connected to their colleagues.

remote-work-buffer 

Image sourced from buffer.com

Virtual water coolers provide remote employees with an opportunity to build relationships and community beyond purely work-related activities. Whether it's to share a grumble, a laugh, or a bit of advice, employees can bond with each other on a deeper level, reducing feelings of loneliness and disconnection.

Water coolers are also ideal places for impromptu problem-solving and brainstorming. An informal chat in the stairwell can lead to problems being shared and solved. It also results in the generation of new ideas and the sharing of experiences. The virtual water cooler has the same potential, offering a liminal space for casual collaboration.

There are plenty of data analysis industry solutions that you can use to track the benefits of your virtual water cooler initiatives. However, one of the most glaringly obvious signs of its success will be your employee satisfaction and retention rates.

How to create a virtual water cooler

All it takes to create a virtual water cooler is solid management skills and a bit of creative thinking. Here's how you do it:

Choose a dedicated platform for water cooler activity

Remote teams have a habit of talking about work and work only-for a very obvious reason.

If you only have one form of communication, perhaps the Teams calling app, for example, chances are it's reserved for work-related discussions. Employees may not feel comfortable using it to have informal conversations. It's much like having a chitchat with coworkers at your office desk-not strictly forbidden, but you still feel guilty when your boss walks in!

Provide remote teams with a separate space for casual conversations. This will help them feel more at ease and create a more optimal work/life balance.

Also, if you want to fully embrace the anywhere-based employee, you need to invest in a first-class digital experience. So, just like the rest of your digital software and tools, take the time to find a video conferencing platform or unified communications platform that meets all of your business communication needs.

virtual-water-cooler

Create icebreaker questions

Starting conversations is awkward enough, but when you're not surrounded by the hustle and bustle that sparks spontaneous interaction, initiating conversations can feel ten times worse.

Make it easier for remote teams to break the ice by introducing engaging topics for discussion. Keep it lighthearted, fun, and fresh with conversation-starting questions like:

  • What's on your bucket list?
  • If someone made a TV show of your life, what would its theme song be?
  • Share the wackiest fact you know.
  • What trivia night theme would you score highest in?
  • What's your favorite weekend activity?
  • Share a joke that makes you laugh every single time.
  • What are you excited about this week/month?
  • If you could master any skill in an instant, what would it be?
  • What are your guilty pleasures?
  • What is a popular movie that you just can't stand?

Offer online lunchtime breaks

Colleagues who lunch together work better together. Whether it's an arranged lunch date in the nearest coffee shop or an impulsive breakroom conversation over packed lunches, communal eating facilitates social bonding.

Help your team to stay mentally healthy while working remotely by creating a virtual breakroom. Do this via your video conferencing app and schedule daily or weekly lunchtime sessions. Employees can join the session with their snacks and coffees to chat, play games, share videos, etc.

Don't be afraid to spice up your virtual lunches. You could do themed lunches, order takeout, or even send your remote employees boxes of treats to enjoy while they're on the call.

laptop-slice-pizza

Host trivia events

Who doesn't love a quiz, especially if there's a prize at the end?

Trivia is an all-inclusive virtual water cooler event with the power to bring shyer team members out of their shells. Employees can increase visibility in remote settings by flexing their general knowledge skills or surprising people with their niche subject expertise. It can help to bolster the team community and spark new conversations.

Some platforms have trivia apps that generate questions for you. Alternatively, you could create your own quizzes and host them through a video call. And, for a bit of extra creativity, you could even create a PowerPoint!

Play question games

Question games are great virtual water cooler activities because they're easy to do over video chat or message. You can use them as icebreakers to introduce new teams or incorporate them into your online lunches and happy hour events.

Perfect for discovering new things about your team members, question games can be a lot of fun. You could try games like:

  • Never have I ever
  • 20 questions
  • This or that
  • Would you rather...?
  • Two truths and a lie
  • Word association

Create virtual clubs

Bonding over similar interests strengthens personal connections and injects community spirit into the workplace. Whether it's crafts, films, tech, or Harry Potter, there's bound to be a shared interest for everyone. However, without the normal water-cooler conversations, it can be difficult for remote employees to find common ground.

Why not help them out by creating clubs? Virtual water cooler clubs are easy to create on video conferencing platforms. Ask your employees what their hobbies are and create different groups for shared interests.

The possibilities are endless, but here are a few popular examples:

  • Book clubs: there are bound to be a few book lovers in your remote team. Set up a virtual book club that lets employees discuss their favorite books. You could dedicate different weeks to different genres or themes and incorporate fun activities like book swapping or literature quizzes.
  • Happy hour clubs: these appeal to the employees who miss going for after-work drinks on a Friday night by setting up a happy hour club. It doesn't even have to involve drinking! Encourage anyone who loves to unwind with games and laughter to join.
  • Board game clubs: board games are no longer exclusively an in-person activity. Lots of popular board games now have app versions, meaning that employees can enjoy their favorite games together regardless of location.
  • Cooking clubs: food brings people together. Cooking clubs are the perfect place for your culinary-loving employees to share recipes, have cook-off challenges, learn through live demonstrations, and eat companionably.
wfh-chinese-food

Conclusion

Forget the idea that remote teams can't forge the same close relationships as in-office employees. Plenty of people, particularly freelancers, thrive in remote teams and prefer to communicate and collaborate through a screen.

With the assistance of a freelance recruiter (secured through a high-quality freelance recruiter contract template), you can build a team of self-motivated, like-minded individuals.

Of course, you still need to provide employees with a place to connect and unwind outside of the confines of your work channels. A virtual water cooler is the perfect place for casual conversations, games, and other team-building activities. They help to promote a mental health awareness culture, reducing feelings of loneliness and encouraging positive relationships.

Ultimately, the virtual water cooler facilitates the creation of a united team that collaborates effectively and supports each other in times of need.

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Richard Conn - Senior Director, Demand Generation, 8x8

Richard Conn

Richard Conn is the Senior Director for Demand Generation at 8x8, a leading hosted VoIP communication platform with integrated contact center, voice, video, and chat functionality. Richard is an analytical & results-driven digital marketing leader with a track record of achieving major ROI improvements in fast-paced, competitive B2B environments. Richard Conn has also written for other domains such as Kustomer and Agility CMS. Check out his LinkedIn.

Published Wednesday, September 07, 2022 7:31 AM by David Marshall
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