How to create virtual 'Water Cooler' moments
Working from home has become the new normal for many employees, managers and entire organisations in the past year. We have had to rearrange our homes, lives, our mindset and get used to this new way of working.
It has had its advantages; no long commute, more time with families, flexibility and even money saved on lunches and takeaway coffees! But with those advantages also comes with it disadvantages and challenges. It is now not as easy to communicate with direct managers, or with other team members. So how can we try and emulate those ‘water cooler moments that we so desperately need to keep employee engagement going from strength to strength?
Use video regularly
Video conferencing (Zoom and Teams) has become extremely popular, and to some a necessity. They can seem awkward at first, with some getting used to the settings, sound, what backgrounds they use and becoming less self-conscious when seeing your own face. BUT these videos can make a huge difference. You will feel more connected to your team after seeing their faces, allowing for more interaction and improving ideas and creativity.
Water cooler moment: Customise your background (or even put something up on the wall behind you!). You could have a team competition once a week to see whose is the funniest!
Virtual water cooler chats
We use the term ‘water cooler chats’ for the type of interaction that happens such as bumping into each other in the lift, a chance meeting in a corridor, or of course by the water cooler (if your office has one!). When your team members can’t go to a physical space, bring those moments to your team with virtual chats. This could be a scheduled ‘natter’ every day at the same time for 15 minutes to discuss anything, from sport and television to families and celebrity gossip.
Water cooler moment: Some video communication platforms have the ability to allow the host of the meeting to split into ‘rooms’. Why not assign some members of the team into breakout rooms so that they can get the chance to know each other and chat in a less intimidating way.
Virtual happy hour
It’s not just the interaction at work that we are having to learn to deal without, it’s the after work social elements in many cases too. Why not schedule ‘happy hour’ meetings after work hours for those who want to meet socially? It’s a great opportunity for making lasting connection with those that we work with. Choose a smaller-sized group to make it feel less business-like.
Water cooler moment: Come up with a social idea: cocktail night, a pub-style quiz, or maybe a book club. If you have a structure in place, it can remove any awkwardness and let employees connect on a more casual level.
Award of the week
We all like to gain recognition for our hard work and show appreciation for others’ efforts. This is something that was regularly a ‘water cooler moment’, discussing good work that has been recognised company wide. MHR’s People First platform enables employees to give recognitions to their colleagues and celebrate success. This is a great way to increase employee motivation, even without the water cooler moments to encourage each other.
Water cooler moment: Why not have an ‘award ceremony’ at the end of the working month? The whole team could attend virtually, and the ‘winner’ of that month could receive something in the post for their achievements.
Find your virtual table football
In many businesses, especially those that are creative, they have breakout areas for employees to relax. These include table football, fruit machines and even ping-pong tables. These were introduced for relationship building, as they allow people with different backgrounds and interests to bond over a shared experience. So how can we recreate this virtually? Play retro video games; card games over video or even take part in virtual quizzes. Anything that takes you away from work for a while and helps to relax and enjoy yourself.
Water cooler moment: Split into partners within your team and have competitions. It can be good to bring out the competitiveness in your colleagues sometimes!