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Making Waves: The Power of Watercooler Conversations in the Workplace

Lisa Ardill

Content Editor at Workvivo

22 May 2023

Watercooler conversations – when employees casually chat during a quick, informal work break – are a helpful way to boost company culture, improve employee collaboration, and create a healthier and happier work environment. As your employees connect over these casual, day-to-day conversations, they’ll begin to work together more effectively, leading to greater productivity

But for partially or fully remote teams, it can be difficult for these conversations to happen organically. If you don’t have a brick-and-mortar office, you don’t have an actual watercooler or a physical break room for your team to gather around. Instead, remote workers take solo breaks, walking away from the computer to step outside or grab a snack in their own kitchens.

This is why you may need to be a little more intentional about fostering discussion between employees – and the first step is understanding the true power of watercooler conversations and why they’re so important. 

Below, we’ll dive into the benefits of watercooler conversations and explore how to encourage them in a remote organization. 

The importance of watercooler conversations

Research shows that 43% of remote workers miss watercooler chats or ‘office chatter’. But watercooler conversations hold much deeper benefits than simply being a nice way to pass the time. Let’s look at a few of the most significant advantages of these casual, informal conversations.

Boost company culture

While they may seem insignificant, casual conversations can actually help cement your company culture. As your employees get to know each other and talk about their day, their communication and engagement will naturally improve. This improved collaboration will, in turn, benefit your company culture. 

Improve employee retention

A stronger company culture and better employee engagement leads to better employee retention. Research from Gallup indicates that companies with highly engaged employees see up to a 43% difference in turnover. For something that seems so small, those casual conversations can have a massive ripple effect across your organization.

Establish better collaboration among team members

Watercooler chats are a valuable method of improving collaboration. The better employees know one another, the more comfortable they’ll be together. And when your employees collaborate well, they’re more productive and creative – a major benefit for your organization.

Promote a healthy work environment

Another benefit of watercooler conversations is how they help encourage a healthy work environment. People thrive off of strong relationships, and when your employees chat with each other, they’ll start to forge feelings of trust, helping them feel safer and more comfortable at work. 

Similar to collaboration, this healthy environment will produce much higher levels of efficiency and excellent work and contribute to better employee morale.

Bring remote workers together

A recent report conducted by Upwork indicates that by 2025, 36.5 million Americans will work remotely. However, despite the benefits (such as flexibility and focus), research shows that many remote workers are lonely, and 25% don’t feel connected to their colleagues

For an organization with remote employees, it’s crucial to provide ample opportunities for the type of watercooler conversations that would happen in a more traditional work environment. Your employees will thank you – and so will your bottom line.

Ways to encourage watercooler chats in a remote organization

Here are a few effective strategies that you can use to facilitate watercooler chats among remote employees and reap the benefits of these casual workplace conversations. 

1) Use a social intranet

The best way to connect a scattered team is with a social intranet. A social intranet is a type of intranet (an internal communication and employee experience network) that helps foster communication and collaboration within an organization. 

Most social intranets have features similar to social media platforms. Users might be able to scroll through an activity feed of recent posts or create a personal profile page. The difference is that this is a closed network – only accessible to people who work for your company – whereas social media platforms are open. 

Social intranets like Workvivo are excellent replacements for in-person watercooler chats because they make it easy for employees to connect – whether to ask important work questions or simply enjoy a more mundane chat. Teams can use features like individual user profiles, activity feeds, and the multiple channels and ‘spaces’ to talk among themselves, boosting engagement and collaboration.

Workvivo’s intranet solution includes features like community spaces that encourage cross-department interactions, a central hub for knowledge and information, and a user-friendly interface, making it easy to get up and running. Get started with a free, personalized demo!

2) Design activities for team members to participate in

Our next recommendation to replace watercooler conversations for remote teams is to organize team-building activities that create a sense of belonging and community. 

These activities are a lot of fun, but their usefulness extends beyond that: they motivate employees to work together, helping grow a sense of teamwork that will translate into work-oriented tasks, too. 

Incorporate team-building activities into your team’s schedule on a regular basis, implementing a monthly game night or weekly happy hour that can take place over Zoom. Consider activities like:

  • Weekly trivia challenges
  • Word games
  • Sports Slack channels
  • Gaming Slack channels
  • Virtual scavenger hunts
  • Show and tell
  • Murder mystery
  • Happy hour
  • Guided meditation
  • Two Truths and a Lie
  • Jeopardy
  • Virtual book club

3) Create a watercooler Slack channel

Slack is a staple for many organizations, remote or not. The platform currently has over 10 million daily active users from companies of all sizes.  

Your organization likely has many different Slack channels for different departments and purposes. Consider creating a ‘watercooler’ Slack or Teams channel that’s just for fun – a place where employees can have the lighthearted discussions that would happen around a typical office. This digital tool provides a great asynchronous alternative for remote teams who are unable to talk face-to-face.

4) Incorporate icebreakers into meetings

Adding icebreaker questions to virtual meetings or standups is a great way to incorporate casual conversation for remote teams, improving empathy and the sense of community in the process.

These get-to-know-you questions are a fun, lighthearted way for employees to connect with one another and learn more about their colleagues on a personal level. When employees better understand who their team members are, their personalities, and what makes them tick, they can work together more effectively. 

Check out some of these fun sample conversation starters:

  • What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
  • What’s your favorite thing you’ve bought this year?
  • Do you have any pets?
  • Are you an early bird or a night owl?
  • If you could have dinner with anybody (dead or alive), who would it be?
  • Do you speak any other languages?
  • What was your first car?
  • What would the title of your autobiography be?
  • If you could instantly become an expert in something, what would it be?
  • What’s the best meal or food you’ve ever eaten? The worst?
  • What was the last TV show or movie you watched?
  • If you competed in the Olympics, what sport would you compete in?
  • When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? 

How a social intranet enhances watercooler conversations in remote teams

There are multiple strategies and communication tools to help facilitate watercooler conversations in remote teams. If you’re looking for a solution to set up quickly and easily, a social intranet is a great choice. Just like watercooler talk, social intranets help foster the communication, engagement, and sense of community your organization needs. 

A social intranet like Workvivo helps with communication, collaboration, and engagement through its social-oriented features. For example, with Workvivo, you can benefit from:

  • Knowledge base that stores essential information in one place
  • Integrations with tools you already use, like Zoom and Slack
  • People directory with profiles for each employee
  • Personalized activity feed for each user
  • Survey or poll employees
  • Channels and ‘spaces’ where different groups of people can connect
  • Podcasts that reach staff wherever they are.

Since Workvivo’s social intranet looks similar to other social media platforms, it’s easy for employees to jump right in with a minimal learning curve. Think of it as a social media platform just for your company that goes beyond cute pet pictures or funny videos (but don’t worry – you can do that, too!).

Encourage watercooler conversations with Workvivo

Creating camaraderie among employees can be hard when working with virtual teams. But brainstorming ways for your remote employees to get to know each other with a ‘virtual watercooler’ is key for encouraging communication and collaboration. 

The ideas in this post are great starting points for virtual watercooler conversations that will foster team bonding across time zones – and benefit your bottom line. Get a demo today to learn more about how Workvivo’s social intranet makes it easy to keep your remote teams connected and engaged.CTA-2-1-1.png