It’s easy to dismiss water cooler talk as gossip, but it’s so much more. While casual, non-work conversations might look like a waste of productive hours, the opposite is true. Idle gossip aside, informal talk about sports, pets, TV shows, or the weather helps employees relax, be themselves, and build strong personal connections with co-workers across departments and hierarchies in the company. Plus, the water cooler effect actually increases overall productivity.
What is water cooler talk?
“Water cooler talk” refers to casual conversations between co-workers about non-work topics. water cooler conversations happen everywhere—in break rooms, cafeterias, and even the parking lot. In remote and distributed teams, water cooler talk typically happens on business collaboration platforms like Flock, Slack, and Zoom.
Water cooler conversations encourage open communication, boost employee morale, positively impact company culture, and create a collaborative work environment that benefits everyone. Particularly in remote and distributed teams, virtual water coolers help employees get to know each other and connect on a personal level, bridge the distance between diverse cultural backgrounds (and geographic locations), and even build lifelong friendships.
Benefits of water cooler talk
Encourages open communication
The informal nature of water cooler talk encourages open communication. Water cooler conversations help employees reset in the middle of a stressful workday by talking about less stressful things, like hobbies and personal interests. These casual interactions build trust amongst employees, so they aren’t afraid to reach out for work-related assistance in the future.
Fosters cross-functional collaboration
In growing teams, water cooler talk creates opportunities for employees from disparate departments to mingle, forge connections, and exchange ideas. In turn, this makes employees feel more comfortable reaching out to co-workers across departments to brainstorm and work together on cross-functional projects. The result: a more cohesive and collaborative team that works towards shared goals.
Creates a sense of community
Virtual water coolers help create a sense of community, so employees can get to know each other on a personal level, stay highly engaged, and build trust. Businesses working out of an office can attest to this feeling, too. Water cooler conversations—even the dreaded gossip—help create a sense of belonging within the company and as employees learn more about each other, they build friendships around shared interests and ultimately create a strong support network for themselves in the workplace.
Improves happiness at work
Dealing with everyday work stress can be draining. Socializing with colleagues around the water cooler is exactly how many of us take a break from it all. Innocuous exchanges about the weather in Boston/Mumbai, last night’s US Open match, or even household chores are welcome diversions, helping employees de-stress so they come back to tasks at hand more enthusiastically than they would otherwise. Water cooler talk improves happiness at work, and happy employees are more creative as well as productive.
How to create a virtual water cooler for your remote team
Remote teams can make up for the missing water cooler or office cafeteria by adopting online collaboration tools like Flock to create virtual water coolers for their employees. However, the lack of physical proximity can stifle small talk, so leaders should set the tone by creating virtual water coolers for their teams and proactively starting informal conversations. Not to mention, when leaders participate in water cooler talk and share non-work related info about themselves, they encourage employees to relax and open up, too.
Organize team bonding activities
Organize social events, even if they are virtual, to encourage casual interactions between employees and improve team bonding. Virtual team lunches, game nights, and team outings are all excellent options. For example, we organized an engaging “LIT Saturday” event to engage employees across functional groups at Flock last week.
Create channels for shared interests
Create public channels on your collaboration platform of choice for shared interests, so anyone in the company can discover and join the conversation. Remember to focus on interests that fit your team needs. Talk to your team, find volunteers to lead conversations on specific topics, and set up separate channels for book clubs, sports fans, film buffs, pet lovers, videogamers, etc.
Make time for small talk
Creating all those channels means nothing if your employees are reticent to talk. Encourage employees to make time for small talk and initiate casual conversations yourself. This can be non-work related banter during breaks between tasks, icebreakers in virtual meetings, or even birthday wishes for co-workers.
Celebrate the small wins in public
Every business celebrates big wins such as product launches, sales deals, and new investments, but it’s the small everyday wins that lead us there. Sharing these small wins—pushing out a new feature update, publishing a new landing page that attracts good traffic, or generating the first few leads from that traffic—in the relevant project channel or the company announcements channel is a great way to recognize good work while also creating opportunities for casual conversations between departments.