The proverbial water cooler. it’s a symbol of camaraderie and communication for work colleagues. And it might not even be an actual water cooler. It could be a fridge, a candy or Keurig machine, or even just the office’s kitchen, but essentially, it’s a place within the workplace that allows workers to gather and talk about work—or not.

What happens, though, when you don’t have a brick-and-mortar business, but rather a virtual one? Does that mean that the water cooler has to fall by the wayside? Not really. In fact, offering a virtual water cooler is a smart move for businesses.

If you’re wondering why you need a virtual water cooler, these four reasons might convince you:

1. It gives your team a chance to bond.

The ideal remote workers are, for the most part, a self-reliant bunch. They can self-manage, meet their deadlines, and exhibit enough savvy to solve problems that occur while working remotely. They are a communicative group of workers, sending updates to each other as well as to their managers.

But they are still individuals with interests outside of work, and providing a virtual water cooler gives them a chance to bond with each other over collective interests and ideas. In turn, this helps to strengthen your team and makes them happier to work together, which boosts productivity and engagement levels.

2. It can inspire new ideas.

Sure, water coolers are known gossip hubs, but they are often also the birthplace of fresh, new ideas. Giving workers the space to creatively connect (without the pressure of obligatory meetings) can help inspire impromptu brainstorming sessions that yield new policies and procedures that can benefit the company.  

3. It reinforces ties and a sense of belonging.

Remote companies often have workers that live and work from anywhere in the world. It’s one of the many benefits of having a remote workforce. But factor in time zones and cultural differences, and it can be hard for remote employees to feel connected to one another beyond the emails they receive.

A virtual water cooler fosters an opportunity for workers to feel stronger ties to not only each other, but to the company, too. It creates a safe zone in which workers can casually drop in and out and feel that they are not just isolated telecommuters, but an important part of something much greater.

4. Remote companies can use a wide variety of virtual water coolers.

Some of the most popular ones include Yammer (which is similar to Facebook, in that people can post updates and pics to the entire company or various groups) and Sococo (which replicates an actual office with conference rooms, offices, and hangout spots).

Some remote companies opt to design their own virtual water cooler, complete with text and video chat options.

No matter what industry you’re in, a virtual water cooler goes way beyond instant messages and emails. It opens the lines of communication for your workers, giving them a chance to connect, feel like a pivotal part of the company, and offer ideas that are in the best interest of the company.

Readers, does your company offer a virtual water cooler? What benefits have you found from having one? Let us know in the comments below!