Man having a video conference with his colleagues creating a virtual watercooler moment

The virtual watercooler

How to create opportunities for casual interaction when working from home

In a recent survey by career portal Indeed, 45 per cent of office workers said they miss in-person meetings when working from home, and 73 per cent said they miss socialising in person. Incredibly, 46 per cent of those social animals said it was the lack of ‘work related side conversations’ that happen in the office that was really doing them in.

They missed the ‘watercooler moments’. 

Here are five tips on creating virtual watercooler moments for employees working from home 

Remind your team they are valued

Workers often feel more connected to their company’s culture when they work in a positive office environment that is a constant reminder of where they fit in, and how valuable they are.

When your employees are working remotely, it is important to recreate this through regular digital updates about impact, honest feedback and praise.

Keep an open line of communication between team members, even if it’s just a check-in. And take the opportunity to remind them why they and their work are important.     

Start a new tradition

Office based workers often indulge in long-held traditions, such as pizza on Fridays, or singing happy birthday to a colleague at their desk. Start a new, digital tradition using collaboration software.

Slack has a Giphy integration for example, so you can send funny Gifs to colleagues to celebrate birthdays or a business-related success.

Have fun with polls, or trivia Fridays. Create a Trello board where you can share the results of weekend challenges like baking competitions.

Turn on the unicorn hack in Asana to make checking off team tasks more fun. These details encourage your team to use collaboration tools more effectively.   

Encourage risk taking

Research shows watercooler conversations help employees share risky ideas, but the key to success is impromptu conversation. There are many ways to facilitate this digitally. You can dedicate a channel in your digital comms package to left field conversation.

There is even a widget for Slack by donut that encourages banter and spontaneity by posting random conversation topics through the day. Or why not have a coffee break Zoom channel open all day.

Lunch and learn sessions

Set up a weekly lunch and learn where a colleague is invited to share details of an innovative project, or someone from an outside organisation can give a talk about a recent success. You could even buy participants lunch via Deliveroo or Uber Eats. These sessions could also be collaboration opportunities.

Use virtual whiteboard software so everyone can get involved, or if you have a larger team use something like Slido, an app that allows groups to answer questions and displays the results over Zoom as graphs, world clouds or similar.

Mentor matching

People often latch on to someone at work as an informal mentor, and they might be missing having this sounding board now they are based at home. Peer mentor networks have been proven to be important for employee success, but are perhaps even more valuable when working remotely for the psychological wellbeing aspects.

Setting up a voluntary, remote peer mentoring programme could be key to both increased productivity and the emotional health of your team.  

Maintaining good connections to the organisation and to each other is key to business success, but it is essential that everyone is involved. So here is your 6th, bonus tip to create the perfect virtual watercooler – don’t be a management stranger.

Make sure your business leaders are engaging in these practices as well, modelling participation and reducing anxiety about engagement – it’s all about genuine care.

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