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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Below are just a few ideas that are more formal and structured:
To encourage more informal “overhearing of conversations”, consider the following:
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.
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