Reimagining the Water Cooler for Virtual Work 


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Woman typing while experiencing the virtual water cooller.

Remote work has a lot of perks for folks who are used to working at an office. The requirements for business casual attire (in some cases, wearing pants altogether) are less restrictive. The hustle and bustle of the workday are often at a slower pace, which decreases stress (especially during a globally stressful period). 

However, there are things to miss about in-person work. Most notably, the loss of the ability to make small talk and connect with co-workers is sorely felt. A recent survey found that out of 400 workers, 70% of them missed the social component of teamwork. Based on those stats, the Zoom virtual water cooler may need a little help. 

At Romain Berg, we are dedicated to helping entrepreneurs find innovative solutions to today’s workplace challenges. Join us for access to a professional network with educational resources that are helpful for you at every stage of your business’s growth. 

Smiling woman as she engages with the virtual water cooler.

Virtual Water Cooler: More Than Small Talk 

Small talk is more than just chit-chat at work. It is during these low-stakes conversations that a lot of work takes place. Connecting over coffee, chance meetings in the break room or lunch in the courtyard are a few examples of how co-workers spend time with each other. 

During these moments, conversation flows naturally, which allows for new ideas and brainstorming to emerge. More importantly, perhaps it is in these periods that trust-building occurs.

Building rapport among the team members is essential for fostering creative collaboration and connection. Collaborative environments are more conducive to innovation, problem-solving, and team cohesion. A team that can work well together has better longevity and build momentum naturally. 

Virtual Lounges

In April 2020, the number of virtual meeting services skyrocketed. In that month, there were 300 million Zoom accounts, 75 million Microsoft Team accounts, and 142,000 Slack customers. While perhaps professionals still saw each other “face to face” virtually, the focus of work meetings was on accomplishing the day’s tasks. 

The random conversations that arise spontaneously and the chances for encouraging team cohesion were disappearing. In a survey conducted by 400 workers, 43% missed the element of spontaneity in their collaborative efforts. 

Creative collaboration platforms are one way to create a virtual space for engagement. Platforms with a digital whiteboard offer the opportunity for team members to post, share, and comment in fun sub-groups. With platforms like these, employees and co-workers can have a separate platform apart from work to share space with each other. 

The best online collaboration platforms have digital whiteboards. Digital whiteboards often have an “infinite canvas” to make a web of different interests and sub-categories. Here they can create categories for posting movie recommendations, funny cat videos, best playlists for working out, or random articles (related or unrelated to work). 

There are several virtual platforms available. Choose the one that works well for your team. 

In text-based platforms like Slack or Teamwork, you can create “channels” completely separate from work. On these, team members can chat with each other and find a sense of connection outside of work meetings. 

Woman drinking coffee and chatting through the virtual water cooler.

Put Fun On the Schedule

An INSEAD study found that teams who formally scheduled social gatherings have a better work experience in remote environments. Hosting virtual coffee hours or trivia games on the clock may seem like a waste of work hours, but it actually has a big payoff. The surveyed teams that had no scheduled social engagements at work reported struggling to adapt and keep up.

Work socialization has been found to increase productivity and decrease burn-out. Accessing light-hearted banter, especially during social distancing and virtual work, is crucial for mental and emotional health. Your team thrives when they can spend time together outside of work. 

Casual Collisions Lift Your Spirit

It’s clear that small talk does more for the work environment than just kill time. The casual, spontaneous conversations that arise at work can boost your mood and your team members as well. To re-create this “casual collision” that happens naturally at work, enlist the help of another cool piece of tech. 

You can use a platform like Airmeet to set up virtual speed networking. Office video chat roulette can pair up team members who might not speak to each other otherwise. The chat time can last 5-10 minutes, giving each person a chance to connect and build rapport with other employees. 

Social engagement provides a restorative effect at work. Remind your team that even if this might feel awkward, it’s necessary for mental and emotional health. With virtual work being a long-term process for some companies, it’s important to create structures and systems that mitigate the effects of social isolation. 

Professional headshots of co-workers engaging in virtual work.

A Quick Fix

Here is a list of a few things you can do today to get your virtual water cooler ideas started. 

  • Make time at the beginning of meetings for check-ins
  • Build time in meetings for members to greet each other
  • Start meetings with ice breakers or a quick game
  • Buy your team coffee via Venmo or Cashapp once a week 
  • Take a zoom selfie together and post them where everyone can see 

Build Rapport for Long-term Success 

Even if your company goes back to working in person, social distancing will change the way you interact at work. The break room may not be the space for engaging and so perhaps you’ll be spending more time together outside. In any case, avoid creating an environment where all of your team’s time is spent at the grindstone. Fun, camaraderie, and spontaneity are all critical towards building a team with strong collaborative skills. 

Finding ways to build rapport amongst your team has long-lasting impacts on your company’s success. Create virtual water cooler chat opportunities to ensure longevity, maintain motivation to your company, and allow your team the chance to goof off a little bit. 

Learning to pivot is what allows any company lasting success. Join us at Romain Berg to gain access to resources and networking opportunities to help your company grow. Sustain, build, and thrive in today’s economy with our online educational workshops and networking events.

About the Author

Sam Romain

Sam Romain

Digital marketing expert, data interpreter, and adventurous entrepreneur empowering businesses while fearlessly embracing the wild frontiers of fatherhood and community engagement.

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