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Recreating Water Cooler Moments Online

10 November 2020
  

Casual interactions are a natural way for humans to connect, especially when 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.

In May of this year, ClearPeople took the bold decision to allow our team to work from home five days a week, forever. Thankfully, it was not a challenge for us to expand to full-time remote working as we had been doing so for a number of years already. Since lockdown restrictions have been put in place however, we’ve seen a number of other large corporations, such as Microsoft and Facebook, also announce they’re allowing more staff to permanently work remotely, as well as making plans for hybrid workplaces.

With the Coronavirus pandemic having changed the way colleagues interact, it’s these ‘water cooler moments’ which have become difficult to recreate and replicate. Despite this, it is possible to ensure they still occur online.

Now remote working is no longer seen as a temporary solution, rather essential to productivity and survival, 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. We must first 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? Whilst some need isolation to be productive, others thrive from that camaraderie.

We conducted a survey on 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.

While there are definitely ways to create online water cooler moments, before I move onto suggestions as to how to do this, it is important to have fundamentals 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 is no point in introducing a new technology and expecting it to be adopted if you don’t plan, implement the right processes and involve the right people. With this in mind, we have applied the same thinking to remote working (which is a complete transformation for some) and added a fourth dimension of culture.

Fundamentals of remote work

But before I move onto suggestions as to how to create online “water cooler moments” it is 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. Basically, there is 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 setup to work effectively? What is blocking them from getting their jobs done – personally and professionally? See point 2.
  2. You need the right technology in place. This is not only about hardware and fast internet connections but also thinking about whether you are providing the right tools for your employees to be successful in their jobs.
  3. Culture. You need an open and transparent culture to support digital water cooler moment. Added to that more visible leaders who are supportive and empathetic
  4. Processes – Don’ take habits from the office and think that they will apply to working remotely. For example, rethinking how meetings are run. All company meetings should by default be virtual so there is no two-tier workforce approach. 

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

Formal ways

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 for monthly knowledge sharing session with the whole company
  • Create structured ways for your team to share useful insights and knowledge on Teams or your digital workspace

This is where a digital workspace is vital. A digital workspace is more than just an intranet or communication platform. It enhances collaboration between colleagues by connecting employees and enabling easy access to knowledge. Knowledge that may have been shared over a water cooler moment but maybe to only a few.

Informal ways

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

  • Using tools like the Icebreaker bot in Teams or opensource tools like minglr 
  • Weekly coffee catchups. This could be amongst senior leaders, managers or even random team members. It is important that there is no set agenda but 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. 

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 work best for your organisation. Not every business is going to realistically be able to implement 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.

 

Author bio

Katya Linossi

Katya Linossi

My job is to shape the vision, strategy, culture and performance of ClearPeople. Other than being passionate about making workplaces more inclusive, I enjoy planning our next travel adventure (post pandemic) or trying out a new recipe.

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