How to bring back watercooler chat in a virtual workspace

Career Enrichment, Leadership Coaching
12/01/20 - Jennifer Maynard

Most companies are now virtual. The loss of team connection has hit many teams hard. We no longer have the “watercooler” to stand around, chat and catch up. We all crave human interaction (yes even introverts need to connect on some level). Working in a virtual environment has both advantages and disadvantages.  

  • Flexible working hours
  • Autonomy
  • Comfort
  • More working time
  • Culture changes
  • Too many work hours
  • Blurred expectations
  • Loss of team connection

So the question is, as a manager, what can you do to recreate watercooler chat for your team? What can you do to bring back the human interaction we all crave?

Here are some ways to bring your team together:

Schedule a drop in zoom room

Set up a call where people can just pop in anytime they want to chat. You can all still sit and work while in the room, but when you just need to have a quick chat with someone you’re already all together in one space. These hang out rooms are a great way for teams to connect and not feel so isolated. 

Start a book club

This is a great way to add personal development, but also to connect as humans. Consider doing it company wide and bringing in those that don’t normally interact together. ALV has a book club for members. It’s a great way for coaches and clients to interact outside of their normal relationships. A book club will help to blur the lines of who is who and allow for great conversation in a new environment. 

Use your webcams

If you don’t already require everyone to use their webcams. Once you start it will be hard to imagine there was a time you didn’t. Once we can see each other’s faces, reactions and body language we will create that human connection. Sometimes just seeing the faces of my team members perks me up when it’s been a particularly lonely day. Schedule time to see each other’s faces regularly. And commit to never having webcams’s off again.

Brainstorm and collaboration meetings

Try scheduling a meeting that is strictly for collaboration or brainstorming. There doesn’t need to be an agenda, it just needs to be a space for people to connect.  Spending time brainstorming in a virtual space will help to foster that missed team connection. Often in a virtual space we get used to having back to back structured meetings and we don’t carve out time for brainstorming or collaboration. Take the time to put the loose, relaxed and creative meetings back into the rotation.

“Lunch and Learns”

Something that often gets passed on once we go virtual are the lunch time trainings. If you used to do “lunch and learns” or leaders teaching leaders events, consider adding those back into the rotation. Taking the time to attend a meeting that is for development or growth is a healthy way to incorporate some connection for the team. 

Scheduled breaks

Morning, lunch or afternoon – try to schedule out a 15-30 time that you request everyone take a break and attend a meeting for the break. The reason you schedule it is so the team will have to come! Be sure you (as the manager) are always there setting an example of the value it brings. What you do in this time is up to you and the team. Ask them what they’d like to do at this time. Perhaps it’s playing a game, maybe it’s discussing the latest news, or even watching silly videos. Having everyone carve out time for a break and collaboration is a great way to replicate the watercooler chat. 

Carve out time before every meeting to chat

I know it’s hard to think about wasting time in a meeting with chit chat, but it’s a very healthy activity when done right. Schedule the chit chat. Let everyone know that the first 5 minutes will be time to chat and connect – with no planned discussion. This allows everyone who is attending to know no time is being wasted, but they all get their chat time in. Adding this 5 minutes in will allow the team to connect again.

Throw a party

What can you celebrate? Is it a birthday, maybe a baby shower or an upcoming wedding? Carve out time each month for a party. Plan games and activities that create connection. We recently had a baby shower for 3 expecting moms. It was filled with games, prizes and a lot of “non-work” related activities. It was a great way for us all to get together and think about something other than our daily jobs. 

Do more icebreakers

Icebreakers may not be loved by all, but they are a great way to get to know others and can help to foster collaboration and connection. Icebreakers may look different in a virtual world, but get creative with what you try. What about show and tell? We are in our homes, and we can now share things we’ve never shared with others before. It might be a tour of your house, a visit from your child, your favorite pet, a piece of artwork, that old bowling trophy, anything you’re proud of. It’s a great time to connect on a personal level.  

As a manager bringing back watercooler chat will drastically improve the team morale, engagement and overall happiness. This is the perfect time to start shaping a new culture and building experiences for your team that they will value for days, weeks or months to come. We want our teams to not just feel like it’s “back to normal”. We want them to come up with new and creative ways to collaborate that are even better than the normal of before.

Related Articles
woman standing looking down at her laptop

Are you feeling stuck in your job search because you lack a college degree? You’re not alone. In fact, according to CNBC “62% of Americans don’t have a degree.” The good news is that it’s entirely possible to build a rewarding career at any age without one. Here’s how you can get a new job […]

Read More
Woman sitting at desk thinking

Changing Careers When You Don’t Know What You Want Not knowing what job or career you want is typical. At some point in their life, most people find themselves at this crossroads, feeling stuck, discouraged, and saying, “I want to do something different, but I just don’t know what that is.” It’s OK to feel […]

Read More