Much of what 2020 has taught us when it comes to our working lives is how we do and don’t want them to look going forwards. We have seen how technology can enable us to work from home with relative ease. Many people have enjoyed a better work-life balance. We have also seen people struggle with the lack of random social interactions and in-person collaborations. Now that the initial rush to get working from home working is over, people are looking to the future and wondering how to recreate the watercooler moments when you work remotely.
There is not much that can fully replace or replicate the same degree of randomness you might get from a casual ‘watercooler’ chat in the office. There is a different energy when you meet in person and certain things such as body language don’t translate as well across a screen.
However, there are ways that we can collaborate and connect without everybody meeting in the office five days a week. The watercooler might look more like your kitchen kettle or the flask on your desk, but the future of corridor and coffee room chats doesn’t need to be dead.
Making time for conversation
What a lot of people miss about the office are the casual social conversations that don’t need to be about proposals and spreadhseets. Chats about what you watched on TV last night or asking about the children or family are equally important to the fabric of working life and relationships with your colleagues.
One way to recreate a watercooler moment when you work remotely is to allow time for such conversations to happen before or after a meeting. Getting people online five minutes early to have those more natural conversations ahead of the set agenda helps to break the ice and keeps people reconnected on a more social level.
One of the ways we looked at helping reduce symptoms of work from home burnout is by introducing a fika. This is a Swedish custom to share a coffee and something sweet with a friend.
Scheduling these coffee breaks, even virtually, can help recreate a watercooler moment to a degree. Although they aren’t a chance meeting, they do provide coworkers an opportunity to get together, switch off from work, and enjoy a social conversation.
Invite team members to bring a drink and set aside time in their diary to do this once a week. To encourage meeting up with a variety of people, you can make it fun by pulling names from a hat. It is easy to computerise a random draw of names from different departments or sectors of the business as well.
Read the full articles on avoiding burnout in volume 2 of The Homeworker print magazine.
Use a varying schedule
The trend we are seeing is that moving forwards, many business will adopt a more hybrid approach to working, with employees spending some days working from home and some in the office.
Eric Evans co-founder of DuoMe says one thing to be very conscious of is still allowing for a variety of interactions when people are in the office. They are developing a software to help businesses operate a flexible working model that engineers different colleagues overlapping when at the office.
Operating a fixed schedule with people on a set rotation of days when they are home or office-based limits the number and variety of people you will interact with. If you can ensure a better overlap so that you have the chance to connect with different people every time you are in the office, you can start to create more opportunities for watercooler moments.
Time without management
One of the attractions of the watercooler chats is that you are breaking free from work for a moment. There is no boss loitering around. It is a pause in your day to destress, maybe even vent a little, or just mentally switch off.
That is why meetings without management are just as important as the ones with your line manger. “That spontaneous catch-up with colleagues at the coffee machine has in most instances disappeared,” says Sarah Roxborough of Forward Thinking HR. She says it is important to encourage teams or individuals to meet up without a manger present. It helps to recreate the watercooler conversations more authentically.
A great way to stay connected with your team is through organising out of work activities.
Team sports, competitions, quizzes, and group challenges can be a good way to maintain a team bond, foster relationships outside of work, and many can be done virtually if need be.
Using platforms such as Slack or Whatsapp, you can set up accountability groups, share results, and updates. Maybe schedule a weekly catchup on video or in-person if allowed.
Getting away from the screen
A video call has its place but as we explore in this piece, Zoom and Teams are not always the best ways to connect.
Zoom fatigue has become a bit of a new buzz phrase as people tire of on-screen meetings and, as researchers discovered, looking at themselves.
An increasingly popular way of meeting while working remotely is to organise a walk and talk. This combines the benefits of exercise and socialising while recreating a watercooler moment in the fresh air.
We explored the advantages of getting outside and collaborating while walking in our Joy issue of The Homeworker magazine.