Remote Water Coolers: What Are They & What Can They Do For You?
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Remote Water Coolers: What Are They & What Can They Do For You?

Unfortunately for us remoters, it can be easy to feel a bit socially left out when not in an office. Without being in the same physical office space as your coworkers, how are you supposed to talk about the latest Netflix series you’ve been binging or last nights football game? From having to get to grips with the process myself (working here in Berlin whilst my lucky coworkers are soaking it up on the beach somewhere!), I’ve managed to help build a cohesive team culture, despite the distance that separates us through remote water coolers.

Although casual and informal chats can sometimes be a distraction at work, they’re actually an important part of your working life. Blowing off some steam is good for you. Fact! Those quick little conversations help build up ties and create great relationships between you and your colleagues. It also helps make your work fun — no one wants to be bored stiff all day long. So, what’s the easiest way to help foster these moments in a remote office then? By having a remote water cooler of course! You may be scratching your heads at this, but don’t worry. All will be explained…

What exactly is a remote water cooler?

When working a typical office job, it’s not uncommon to find people chatting around the water cooler. It may not even be a water cooler they’re standing around! It could also be the fridge, coffee machine or broken foosball machine that never gets fixed. People stand, chat and take a small break from their work. Of course, working remotely makes this less easy. A remote water cooler attempts then to replicate this kind of interaction. You can do this pretty well with a number of social media or messaging tools like Slack and Yammer and get to know your colleagues around the globe a bit better!

Interpersonal relationships and company culture

It can be easy to think that remote work is all about independence, and whilst that may have some truth, it doesn’t mean that your workers should feel isolated! Bonding over the things you have in common and showing interest in others’ personal lives is a great way to create good relationships. Workers that socialize have also been shown to be some of the most productive within a company, so the benefits can be realized in output as well. It’s not all just fun and games! Interpersonal relationships also make for happy employees, which I think most people can agree is a good thing.

Your company culture can be a bit difficult to develop when you don’t have an office to hang out in, so building this culture is actually even more important for remote work. By using a virtual water cooler to strengthen your team and loosen up a bit, you’ll find that your company culture will be much easier to build.


Lessen the distance

Management can often seem distant and not so approachable. But by getting managers involved in a little small talk and really championing the remote water cooler, everyone can feel more comfortable with each other. I’ve found nothing more annoying than wanting to get involved in the water cooler culture but finding that your boss just doesn’t care at all. It sucks for you and ultimately sucks for them too.

This is the same problem between different departments who may not socialize much outside of their circle. These silos can become even more of an issue within remote companies, as you can’t accidentally bump into other colleagues in the hallway! When workers are more relaxed with other teams and their superiors, the work produced increases in quality and people feel more relaxed. 

Make the water cooler central to your company social culture

We recommend that you try and put the water cooler right at the center of your online social strategy. If you actively encourage this kind of behavior and get enthusiastically involved yourself, you’ll find that your employees will also be more receptive to using water cooler tools. As traveling is fairly common for us lucky remoters, most will have some crazy stories to tell about what they’ve been up to. Try starting each week by asking what everyone did the weekend before. I bet you’ll find that most people are willing to have a chat about it. If working as a manager, try to spark these water cooler moments yourself. If employees see you making the effort, they probably will too.

Utilize instant messaging tools

One easy way to easily help build a virtual water cooler is by making great use of instant messaging tools. Gone are the days of being told off for getting caught using messenger at work! Whilst email is, of course, useful for when you need something set in stone, it’s not the easiest place to bond with your workmates. By using tools like Slack or Asana, you can create channels within just for socializing and chilling. Using emojis and gifs can also make everything feel a bit less like work… and who doesn’t need that?

Use video calls as much as possible

Having a more personal video call can also be a great way of building meaningful relationships in a remote office environment. You can communicate in a more natural way and realize some obvious benefits that you just can’t get with written communication. Seeing someone’s facial expressions and body language while talking to them also helps make everything more informal and relaxed. Although instant messaging channels can really help, go the extra mile by introducing a video call every so often!

Give the virtual water cooler a try

If you want a happier and more productive workforce, give the virtual water cooler a try. I can speak from experience — work is way more interesting, entertaining and fun. Allow your employees to have a quick chat and you’ll quickly see what benefits it can bring. Even just allowing people to take a 5-minute break from work is reason enough to give it a go. Remote workers don’t need too much time when engaging in water cooler moments to make the most of it. Check out some of the tools mentioned above that can help you achieve this in your remote office today! Who knows, you may even get to hear a funny story or two…

— Luke Pettit, Remote-how

This article was brought to you by Remote-how. Remote-how is an online platform empowering the growth of remote work through education, community support recruitment support. Remote-how is a creator of Remote Career Advisory – program designed to help aspiring remote workers land their first remote jobs! You can learn more details here.

Author’s Bio

Luke Pettit currently works as Marketing Manager for a Berlin-based tech start-up, whilst also producing content remotely. He spends most of his time creating digital marketing strategies, writing copy and hosting tech events throughout Berlin. By working remotely, he gets to experience the benefits of both flexible working arrangements and a start-up office environment.

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