atlas by clearpeople

The Best Microsoft Technology for Virtual Water Cooler Moments


Casual interactions are a natural way for humans to connect, especially in an office environment. Whether it’s grabbing a coffee in the kitchen first thing, or throwing around concepts over the office water cooler, some of the most creative, profitable business ideas have come from these interactions.

Want to know how to recreate virtual water cooler moments? And what are the best tools?


When the pandemic began, ClearPeople decided to allow our team to work from home five days a week, forever. Fortunately, it wasn't a challenge for us to expand to full-time remote working as we'd been doing part-time remote work or hybrid working for a number of years already. 

While hybrid working changed the way we interact as colleagues, it was the ‘water cooler moments’ that were the most difficult to recreate. However, we've successfully managed to overcome this with a combination of the best of Microsoft technology, Atlas, our digital workplace and intranet platform, and by implementing new rhythms and processes. 


Start by understanding which water cooler moments are missed the most

It’s important for teams to think about which ‘water cooler’ moments have helped them the most; whether that’s getting a job done, or career progression.

You will need to understand which moments are missed most from the office; is it learning something new by overhearing a conversation? The office chit chat or the ability to share your opinions and ideas easily? While some need isolation to be productive, others thrive from that camaraderie.

We conducted a survey by asking professionals which water cooler moments they missed most from the office. 57% cited overhearing conversations as a means to learn new things, with 27% missing quick answers to their questions due to having people around them.


Fundamentals of remote work

But before I move onto suggestions as to how to create online “water cooler moments”, it's important that some fundamentals are in place to ensure that a borderless office is effective.

When we advise our clients on how to create successful digital transformation projects, we always refer to three key aspects - technology, processes and people. There's no point in introducing a new technology expecting it to be adopted if you do not plan and involve people and processes. So, we have applied the same thinking to remote working and added a fourth dimension of culture.

  1. People – always start with people first. Are they set up to work effectively? What's blocking them from getting their jobs done – personally and professionally? See point 2.
  2. Technology - this is not only about hardware and fast internet connections but also thinking about whether you are providing the right digital tools for your employees to be successful in their jobs.
  3. Processes – Don’ take habits from the office and think that they'll apply to working remotely. For example, rethink how meetings are run. All company meetings should by default be virtual so there is no two-tier workforce approach. 
  4. Culture - you need an open and transparent culture to support digital water cooler moments. Plus more visible leaders who are supportive and empathetic.

Now that we have the fundamentals out of the way, let's focus on the one key moment that our research participants miss the most: overhearing conversations. How can you recreate these online?


Formal ways to recreate virtual water cooler moments

Below are just a few ideas that are more formal and structured:

  • Promote regular cross departmental meetings with a focus on sharing know-how
  • Plan monthly knowledge sharing sessions with the whole company
  • Create structured ways for your team to share useful insights and knowledge on your digital workplace
  • A digital workplace is vital. A digital workplace is more than just an intranet or communication platform, it enhances collaboration between colleagues by connecting employees and enabling easy access to knowledge. In this way knowledge that may have been shared over a water cooler moment now becomes accessible to many more employees.

Informal ways to recreate virtual water cooler moments

To encourage more informal “overhearing of conversations”, consider the following:

  • Using tools like the Icebreaker bot in Teams or open source tools like minglr 
  • Weekly coffee catchups among senior leaders, managers or even randomly selected team members. It is important that there's no set agenda but that this is simply an opportunity to chit chat as well as share something you learnt that week, “overheard” or even as simple as an important decision that you forgot to tell more than one person about
  • Ask Anything channel in Yammer or Teams. It is important though to monitor this regularly. 


Best Microsoft 365 technology for virtual water cooler moments

  • Microsoft Teams is a very popular collaboration tool. Besides, the chat facility where employees can talk and message each other, as well as share thoughts, you can add a personal touch to your conversations with GIFs, emojis, or quotes and reply to people in-thread.
  • Microsoft Viva Engage. Viva Engage is seen to be the digital equivalent of a conversation in passing or a water cooler moment. While you have regular conversations with your closest colleagues, you’re less likely to chat to people in other teams. Viva Engage is designed to make those interactions easier and more common, even with hybrid working where the water cooler is a virtual concept.

... and Atlas

  • Atlas Atlas makes finding and sharing water cooler moments in Microsoft 365 intuitive, with tools that engage users to capture information and knowledge, including an AI powered tool, centralized knowledge base and a powerful way to surface relevant information instead of relying on overheard conversations.


When looking to successfully recreate these moments, it’s not only vital to listen to employees, but also to try different approaches to see which ones work best for your organization. Not every business is going to realistically be able to implement lots of new tools and others will be unable to commit to weekly meetings. Despite this, having the fundamentals in place, and offering employees the opportunity to have informal interactions will benefit businesses and empower staff.



Hybrid Workplace Blog Series




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