The good ol’ water cooler is the heart of many companies. It’s where we go to take a break, rehydrate and chat with our colleagues. However, the benefits of water cooler conversation go far beyond cementing social bonds and recharging our batteries. It also has a massive impact on productivity, innovation, and collaboration. That’s why it’s vital to ensure your hybrid workplace supports those all-important casual chit-chats.
This essential guide covers all you need to know about water cooler conversations in distributed teams. Here are the questions we will address:
- What is a water cooler conversation?
- What are the benefits of water cooler talk?
- What are common topics discussed?
- Are there any topics that are off-limits?
- How do I ensure remote workers can join the conversation?
What Is A Water Cooler Conversation?
Here’s our take on the water cooler communication definition:
Water cooler conversations are informal chats between colleagues on non-work topics. They occur when employees take a break at the water cooler or in the workplace kitchen.
Water Cooler Chats: 8 Surprising Benefits
1. Improved Company Culture
Successful businesses all have one thing in common: a positive company culture. Employees in top companies share a common purpose, positive team morale, and a strong sense of community.
And water cooler conversation plays a critical part. Casual chit-chat brings employees together on a personal level. And it helps build strong connections, plus team morale. Businesses that encourage informal conversations tend to have happier, more engaged workforces than those that don’t.
2. More Meaningful Work Environment
We are all social beings at heart and thrive on a sense of community. Outside of our families, we spend more time with work colleagues than anyone else. And the foundation for good working relationships is shared interests.
Informal chats around the water cooler are essential for developing team spirit and employee satisfaction. Your workers enjoy sharing stories about their children, hobbies, and what they did at the weekend. What’s more, people like discussing the latest plot twist in their favorite soap or analyzing the shortcomings of their sports team. These kinds of everyday, casual conversations add meaning to our lives and help forge strong connections and trust between employees.
3. Enhanced Employee Wellbeing
Every responsible employer should be actively promoting employee wellbeing. After all, happy and healthy employees take fewer days off sick and are also more productive.
Anxiety and stress are commonplace in today’s fast-paced and productivity-focused workplaces, even more so for potentially isolated and lonely remote workers.
We all need to take a breather from time to time. And the water cooler offers the perfect excuse to stretch your legs, rehydrate, and mentally switch off for a few moments. A light-hearted exchange with colleagues will see employees more refreshed and reenergized. These quick timeouts mean your people can better focus on the job.
4. Increased Opportunities For Collaboration
Joint working and collaboration are much easier where there’s already mutual trust and respect. Getting to know colleagues over the water cooler makes for smoother project collaboration as there are connections between team members.
Furthermore, the spark for many good business ideas or process improvements is a water cooler conversation. A casual exchange often sets off a chain reaction. Co-workers can offer a fresh perspective or insights on issues colleagues grapple with.
5. More Facetime With Management
Every good business leader knows the importance of getting amongst staff and being visible and accessible. An informal chat with an employee away from the desk is a great way to break down traditional hierarchies. Managers come across as being more human and approachable. The result? A better understanding of respective roles and responsibilities, plus improved working relationships.
Casual water cooler chats are also an excellent tool for leaders to keep their fingers on the pulse. Employees can provide informal feedback on various issues. Managers develop a better sense of what’s important to the workforce. And they can take part in those two-way conversations, which make staff feel valued.
6. Improved Employee Engagement
Research tells us that employees who feel engaged tend to be more productive and stay in the job longer. There are many aspects to employee engagement. However, it’s all about friendships, social connections, and feeling valued at the basic level. The shared camaraderie and trust staff develop around the water cooler are essential to a wider-ranging employee engagement program.
7. Enhanced Productivity
The bottom line is that water cooler chats are a boon to productivity. And you don’t have to just take our word for it. Research from MIT uncovered a clear link between productivity and personal communication. Employees who felt more connected had greater job satisfaction. Even better, they were also ten percent more productive.
8. Better Staff Retention
Since the onset of Covid, top talent has been leaving in droves, and the Great Resignation is now a worldwide phenomenon. The loss of knowledge, plus increased recruitment and onboarding costs, is hitting the bottom line where it hurts most.
Casual chit-chat is one small but significant step you can take to address staff retention. The water cooler is where friendships are made, problems are shared, and support is readily available. In short, it leads to happier, more connected workers.
Informal conversations have been happening since the office was invented. And for a good reason. As we have seen, far from being a timewaster, they are essential to motivated, connected workers.
But what are staff talking about at the water cooler? The best topics are those that don’t require any special knowledge. That way, everyone can join in. Let’s take a look at the most popular conversation topics at the water cooler.
Water Cooler Conversation Topics
It is no surprise that the number one conversation topic is family. Talking about those nearest and dearest to us is a very natural topic and is usually a safe, neutral one. However, it’s best not to treat the water cooler as the arena for a personal therapy session! Talking about any personal problems at home will just make colleagues feel uncomfortable.
Hobbies And Interests
Another popular topic is how we spend our leisure time. A shared love of golf, ballet, or eating out, for example, creates a strong sense of camaraderie and positive interpersonal relationships amongst workers.
Movies, TV, and entertainment
Popular culture is also a good conversation starter. Whether it’s discussing the latest Marvel blockbuster or Coldplay’s new album, popular entertainment is part of our shared culture. And everyone has something to contribute.
Most of us enjoy talking about vacations, especially in the run-up to summer or when school holidays are looming. It doesn’t have to be fancy holidays abroad, discussion about things to do and places to go much closer to home are also safe bets.
The weather – what it’s currently doing and what it might do tomorrow – is an endless source of fascination for most people! It’s also an easy conversation topic, making it a popular choice at the water cooler.
Catch the Giants game at the weekend? Chatting about the progress of your favorite sports team is another popular subject. However, discretion is advised here as not everyone is a passionate sports fan. In fact, some people can be too intense. You don’t want disagreements and differences of opinion if employees support opposing teams in the big game.
Water Cooler Conversation Topics To Avoid
Some subjects are best avoided altogether in water cooler conversation. Politics and religion are top of the list. These topics are just way too heavy for the water cooler. And they could potentially offend. It’s best to save these discussions for another time and place.
Conversations about money, salary, or promotions are also out of bounds. It’s an unspoken business rule. Discussions between employees about money will always result in hurt feelings and negativity. It’s just not worth going there.
Likewise, office gossip and scandal are taboo subjects. Indulging in idle chatter about the boss or co-workers is never a good idea. In fact, it can be quite downright damaging and creates an atmosphere of mistrust and cynicism. Far from boosting productivity, workplace rumors will just lower output.
It’s also possible to have too much of a good thing. Keep an eye out for the worker who spends a lot of time shooting the breeze at the water cooler. Protracted conversations can distract from the job at hand for the whole team. A polite reminder should sort out any employees tempted to take advantage.
Water Cooler Conversation And Remote Workers
When it comes to casual stress busters, office-based workers have it easy. The water cooler and close physical proximity to colleagues are a reality for these employees.
However, for remote or on-the-go workers, it’s not so straightforward. But their need for social relationships is even greater.
According to research, nearly two-thirds of remote workers report feeling isolated and lonely at least sometimes. Working from home has brought many benefits. Who misses commuting, for example? But for some employees, it’s hard going, especially those who live alone. They miss the office banter and feel out of the loop.
So, how do remote workers get to benefit from the water cooler conversation culture? Thankfully, there are ways to ensure remote and deskless workers get to be part of the conversation. Let’s explore the options.
6 Ways To Encourage Water Cooler Chats In Hybrid Teams
1. Team Chat
Business instant messaging is the perfect place to start. Whether it’s Slack, Microsoft Teams, or intranet IM, most companies use a messaging platform. These tools connect workers whatever the location and are great for team collaboration. And that also makes them ideal for casual conversations.
You can set up channels for non-work banter with hashtags like #random or #timeout. Or you can set up channels for shared interests like a working parents’ hangout or pet corner.
Worried about the potential for distraction? The IM setup means employees can mute conversations when they need to focus. However, there’s always the opportunity to dip in and out of chats as schedules allow.
2. Virtual Meeting Software
Even if over Zoom, face-to-face conversations are still part of the workplace.
Next time you schedule a team meeting, dedicate the first ten minutes to general chit-chat. Allow workers to talk about whatever – the weather, weekend plans, or what’s cooking for dinner. And if you are concerned about the conversation drying up, set a theme in advance. Binge TV recommendations or favorite holiday destinations are safe bets. Shoutouts to colleagues and co-workers are another great choice. Who doesn’t love the kudos spotlight?
3. Informal Team Breaks
Friday afternoons are the perfect time to schedule some informal downtime. Whether it’s over IM or video, informal get-togethers ensure everyone takes a break. And they also make a difference in team bonding and morale.
4. Virtual Lunches And Coffee Breaks
Shared team lunches and coffee breaks are an oldie but goldie. After all, food brings folks together. So, why not take these team-bonding events online? Getting together over a bite to eat comes naturally to us all. Just make sure you ban all work-related talk.
5. Virtual Team Building Activities
Whether it’s trivia, puzzles, or online scavenger hunts, team-building activities are fun ways to connect with colleagues. Game playing is a good option for shyer team members who may feel uncomfortable sharing personal information.
However, try not to overdo it. Too many virtual events feels forced and is exhausting. Keep these sorts of events to once or twice a year to maximize the benefits.
6. Random Meetups
Organize random meetups between employees across different departments who don’t usually work together. They help break the ice, encourage mutual understanding, and are great for sharing knowledge. Keep them short at 15 minutes so they don’t feel like a burden.
Final Thoughts: Water Cooler Conversation And Hybrid Teams
When the pandemic hit, and we all shifted to remote working, most of us missed those casual encounters with colleagues. A shared joke in the lift or banter over the coffee pot is what makes the working day. Encouraging informal chat in hybrid teams is challenging but not impossible. It just requires some structure and planning.
Use the ideas we share here to ensure all team members can take a break and recharge. Your business will benefit from the improved productivity, innovation, and team spirit that follow.
What’s your experience of water cooler conversations and hybrid teams? Please share any practical tools or insights in the comments. We’d love to hear from you.
We are a leading supplier of cloud intranet software. Easy to set up and manage, MyHub’s intranets are designed for the non-expert and come at a very affordable price. Packed full of exciting tools and features, our intrants are used by businesses worldwide to support hybrid working.