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Your Company Needs a Virtual Water Cooler: Here's How to Create One

Cubo writersOct 11, 2022

The office water cooler has become synonymous with informal conversation in the workplace. It's how employees connect, network, and let off steam. But as more companies have shifted to a digital workspace or employees keep their distance from colleagues as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this vital resource has been lost and with it the boost in productivity and employee engagement. Enter the virtual water cooler. The virtual water cooler works on the same principles as the typical office water cooler but allows these essential interactions to be carried out online. 

What is a water cooler meeting?

A  computer screen with two women on a virtual meeting

In the office, a water cooler meeting is an informal chat among colleagues, typically at a central spot that employees frequent.

Since it's not structured or scheduled, the conversation can center around work-related topics, personal matters, or office gossip. The organic nature of the interaction allows employees to drop their guard and create deep and more meaningful professional relationships that the company can leverage for its benefit.

What are the benefits of water cooler talk?
A  young man working on his laptop while drinking juice

You need to add water cooler talk to your company's internal communication strategy because it advances many of the core workplace structures that cannot be implemented using the typical data-focused approach. Its greatest benefits are experienced in the intangible — but vital — performance indicators.

Build in-office connections

Networking is always encouraged to build connections in the industry; however, the most important connections — for an employee's performance — are the connections made within the company. Meeting at a water cooler allows employees to engage with each other, building an understanding and appreciation for the function of the colleague's work. This can improve cross-departmental collaboration within the company.

Develop the company culture

For many employees, workplace culture is a more significant motivator than salary, bonuses, or other perks. However, it's also one of the most challenging things for a company to create, even in the most forthcoming of environments, because company culture depends solely on the employees and cannot be influenced by inorganic events.

The water cooler meeting assists in developing workplace culture because it provides a meeting spot for employees to build rapport and trust while creating bonds, all things that make them more engaged in the company and its success.

Improve employee retention

Companies lose billions on employee churn every year: the cost of advertising the position, interviewing candidates, and training recruits is a burden on your budget and employees' precious productivity. Water cooler meetings provide a much-needed break for employees in addition to building connections and maintaining morale, which increases employee loyalty, and reduces churn.

Encourages collaborative brainstorming 

Besides being a place for physical refreshment, a water cooler is also a place for mental alleviation, giving employees a break from mental stressors that often make problem-solving difficult.

Since it's a great escape, it can also be where employees have epiphanies that they can implement in their work, whether because they're discussing issues with colleagues or finding reprieve from tension.

Increase respect for management

Upper and middle management can appear distant to most employees. Water cooler chatter bridges the gap and integrates managers into the team. Beyond increasing respect, this bond also gives management access to information that may have remained within their team; information as feelings of discontent, apathy, or stress. With this access at a manager's disposal, they can strategize to prevent issues from escalating or resolve the concerns, improving retention and the team or individual employee's performance.

How to create a virtual water cooler moment
A  man on a virtual meeting on his laptop

Considering how beneficial water cooler meetings are to your business, you want to ensure that even in hybrid, flexible, or remote working environments, you're leveraging these benefits. You can do this by shifting your attention to virtual water cooler meetings.

Host virtual meet-ups and events

Unlike an in-office water cooling meeting, where employees can randomly connect because of their unplanned use of the same refreshment facility, you can't do the same online. An employee can reject a call request, leave a colleague on "read," or set their status to away or do not disturb.

Schedule events — within working hours — that employees need to attend. Then, ensure that employees cannot use technology to create barriers to the kind of communication that would occur in-office. Perfect water cooler moments are created when the groups at these events are smaller, randomly selected, and from different teams within the organization.

Setup the meetings at least a week in advance and plan activities — trivia, Clue, icebreaker sessions — those within the group can participate in before selecting a moderator. This water cooler meeting isn't about participating in virtual games or activities but about encouraging organic conversation.

Create chatrooms

Using your SaaS tools create a group that is open to all employees. (You may have to invite each employee, depending on the software you use.) Express that the purpose of the group is chatting.

Chatrooms could seem outdated given how niche the internet has become in allowing you to tailor the content with which you interact. 

Now you have group chats and forums that bring like-minded people together to have purpose-driven — albeit informal — conversations.

A chatroom removes the purpose aspect of the interaction and enables purely informal, relaxed conversations to emerge, the kind of conversations you'd have at a water cooler. In this chatroom, colleagues can hang out and wait for a coworker to join to initiate conversation, or they could invite coworkers to the space. 

Since there's no purpose for the chat, the conversation can revolve around any topics employees consider worthwhile, creating the perfect opportunity for employees to build connections and loyalty, increasing retention.

Demolish the hierarchy

A hierarchy is detrimental to the progress of smaller companies as it hinders feedback. Rather than allow whoever would need to hear the information access to it, having a hierarchy creates unnecessary barriers and gatekeepers. Of course, this doesn't mean you shouldn't have c-suite execs or management. It means your internal communication strategy shouldn't rely on go-betweens to get information across. Using your SaaS tools allow all employees to send message to each other.

Enabling anyone to send a message to someone in upper management is the key to attaining resolutions quickly and retaining employees. Workers feel far more valuable if they feel their contribution is making a difference.

Implement an "all hands on deck" day

To reduce non-participation, implement an "all hands on deck" day once a quarter. This is a day where employees can't set their availability to "away" or "do not disturb." 

Having this rule, means employees are more likely to communicate with each other and create their water cooler moments outside of their prescheduled events.

Use SaaS tools that prioritize informal interactions

None of the aforementioned steps will work unless your company relies on an app that encourages communication.

While you can use Microsoft Teams or Zoom to create a virtual water cooler moment, it can never be as organic as the kind of conversations you can strike up using Cubo

Cubo has plenty of unique features that encourage informal interactions.

The listen-in feature is another game-changer as it enables others to passively listen in on conversations without breaking the flow of the interaction.

Water cooler meetings are also easier because of the Social Lounge feature, where social interaction takes center stage.

For a virtual water cooling meeting to have the same impact as an in-office one, the premise should be social first. If it feels like a typical virtual meeting all novelty — and benefits — will be nonexistent.