Why You Need a Virtual Water Cooler for Your Remote Team
The proverbial watercooler. It’s a symbol of camaraderie and communication for work colleagues. And it might not even be an actual watercooler. It could be a fridge, a candy jar, or a Keurig machine. Perhaps it’s just the office’s breakroom. Essentially, a watercooler is 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 a virtual one? Does that mean that the watercooler has to fall by the wayside? Not at all. Offering a virtual watercooler is a smart move for every business but essential for remote ones.
Creating an Informal Gathering Space
Perhaps you read in one of your networking groups about the merits of a virtual gathering place. Does the idea hold some appeal, but you’re not sure that it’s necessary? If you’re still not convinced that you need one, consider the following.
Cultivate Bonding Opportunities
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 arise while working remotely. They are a communicative group of workers, sending updates to each other and their managers.
However, remote workers are still individuals with interests outside of work. Providing a virtual watercooler gives your remote team a chance to bond with each other over collective goods and ideas. In turn, this helps to strengthen your team and makes them happier to work together, which boosts productivity and engagement levels.
Sure, watercoolers can be gossip hubs, but they are 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.
This is also an excellent place for managers to be more approachable and build bridges. Most team members won’t want to swing by the manager’s virtual office hours to say, “Hi! Did you watch any good movies this weekend?” Creating space for your remote workers to connect informally is a great way to foster a feeling of connection throughout all team levels.
Remote companies often have workers that live and work in different cities, states, or even countries. It’s one of the many benefits of having a remote workforce. But factor in time zones and cultural differences, and it can be challenging for remote employees to feel connected to one another beyond the emails they receive.
A virtual watercooler creates an opportunity for workers to feel stronger ties not only to each other but to the company too. It creates a safe zone where workers can casually drop in and out. Rather than feeling like isolated remote workers, they’ll feel part of influential company culture.
How to Create a Virtual Watercooler
Since you can’t simply call the water delivery company to set up your cooler, you’ll need to find the option that best fits your team. That might mean expanding the tools you already have, such as creating new Slack channels. If none of your current choices will work, there are many platforms out there to launch and host some casual, virtual fun.
Find the Best Fit
Some of the most popular platforms include Yammer, which is similar to Facebook, where 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 design their own virtual watercooler, complete with text and video chat options. Still, others utilize Zoom meetings and create a regularly scheduled coffee chat. Often, the managers won’t be the official host, delegating that to outgoing, tenured team members. However, managers should strive to “swing by” as their schedules allow.
Get the Conversation Rolling
One of the best ways to start conversations is to have random, non-work questions lined up for the team. Silly icebreaker questions help everyone to relax and open up a little.
It’s best to set boundaries ahead of time regarding etiquette. If it’s a relatively new team, you might consider asking volunteers to showcase little-known facts about themselves for a few minutes.
You might be surprised how quickly everyone gets past the initial awkwardness and embraces the casual camaraderie. Have a loose plan, but don’t overcomplicate it.
Virtual Watercoolers Are Even More Essential
A virtual watercooler goes way beyond instant messages and emails no matter what industry you’re in. It can open lines of communication for your remote workers, giving them a chance to connect, feel like a pivotal part of the company, and offer ideas in the company’s best interest.
Without casually chatting in the hallway or sharing a quick conversation at a coworker’s desk, having a virtual option to meet that need is essential for a healthy team atmosphere.
For more tips from leading remote companies and virtual teams, check out our Q and A’s.
By Jennifer Parris | Categories: Build a Remote Team