Bringing Back The Water Cooler Chats In The Hybrid Workplace

Bringing back the water cooler chats in the hybrid workplace

In its second research into attitudes about remote work, PwC surveyed 133 executives and 1,200 office workers in November and December 2020 and found that US executives and employees are converging around a post-pandemic future with a lot more flexibility. Yet, few are prepared to abandon the office altogether.

Most of the employees and executives surveyed expect this hybrid workplace reality to take shape in the second quarter of this year. Over half of employees (55%) would prefer to be remote at least three days a week once pandemic concerns recede.

83% of employers claim the shift to remote work has been successful for their company. Yet, collaborating with team members and building relationships have undoubtedly taken a hit.

Before the pandemic, the office water cooler was where employees bumped into each other and socialized with colleagues about work and non-work-related topics. Technically more of a concept than an actual water cooler (impromptu team lunch, a run-in in the hallway, or just a quick coffee break), such casual, informal conversations enable a conducive company culture. They facilitate team bonding, eliminate departmental silos, help employees brainstorm ideas, and improve productivity and engagement.

Research shows 80% of successful ideas implemented by teams are born out of informal conversations.

The Effect of the Pandemic on Water Cooler Chats

The COVID-19 pandemic pushed employees across the world to shift to remote working models. While remote working has its benefits, such as more family time, flexible work policies, and the capacity to work in a relaxed environment with no need for business attire, lack of social engagement has left employees anxious, stressed, and isolated.

As seen above, the future of work is the hybrid work model – a mix of remote and office-based work. However, even when some of the employees return to the office, water cooler chats are less likely to return to normal, with the psychological effect of the pandemic deterring people from being too close to each other.

The question then arises – “How can leaders bring back the water cooler chats in the hybrid workplace?”

Let’s find out.

Water Cooler Chats in the Hybrid Workplace

Bruce Lasko, MD and head of human resources at LandrumHR, has set up a virtual meeting place called “The Water Cooler” that is built as an online Microsoft Teams site. Additionally, they use other channels for communication and collaboration, such as a company newsletter that communicates company news and updates, and a dedicated channel for fun conversations.

Like LandrumHR, many organizations have started establishing a virtual water cooler, a digital version of the traditional water cooler at the office that allows employees to discuss the latest news and events, have a quick chat on the “trending” Netflix shows, access relevant content, and connect with subject-matter experts (SMEs) who can help them with their projects.

Digital workplace platforms and modern intranets provide great functionalities that can be used as part of the water cooler experience. These include –

1. AI-driven content personalization

Delivering news and targeting content based on an employee’s role, geography, interests, etc., help personalize the overall employee experience and increase engagement.

2. SME Finder

Such platforms leverage AI to help users connect with the right people by recommending relevant SMEs to dispense relevant knowledge and assist with current projects.

3. Social collaboration features

Social collaboration features, such as enterprise messaging apps, blogs, and discussion forums, help employees chat on the latest news, updates, and company events and share their thoughts on various topics. Or carry out an informal chat on the latest movie, the weather, or a new restaurant opening up in the city

Moreover, the management can showcase employee rewards and mention their outstanding achievements on the platform for all to see – increasing motivation and alleviating their sense of esteem.

4. Polls and Surveys

Employees can pitch in their opinion, provide feedback on company initiatives, and contribute to critical business decisions that help improve employee and business outcomes.

5. Idea Management System

An idea management system fuels innovation by allowing teams to brainstorm, develop creative solutions to everyday business challenges, or find new ways of doing work.

Employees can capture, upvote, or comment on ideas, and the management then shortlists the best ideas.

6. Content Management System

Employees can share their ideas through a one-click content creation tool that offers custom page templates and drag and drop features for a seamless authoring and editing experience.

Why should organizations bring back water cooler chats in the hybrid workplace?

Here is a list of compelling reasons that should convince organizations to bring back water cooler chats in the hybrid workplace and implement a virtual water cooler system –

  • Fuels innovation by allowing ideas and varying views to cross-pollinate
  • Improves communication and collaboration amongst dispersed workforces
  • Helps HR retain the best talent
  • Enhances employee engagement and productivity
  • Provide employees a sense of purpose at work and allows them to understand the value they add to the company
  • Helps employees get comfortable with managers and make them more accessible in the future
  • Promotes the emotional well-being of employees
  • Alleviates employee stress by creating a more relaxed environment at work

How can Acuvate help your organization bring back water cooler chats for hybrid workers?

At Acuvate, we help organizations build and deploy a modern intranet with our autonomous SharePoint intranet solution called Mesh 3.0.

As a Microsoft Gold Partner, we leverage renowned Microsoft technologies to build Mesh, including MS Natural Language Stack, LUIS, Office Graph, and Azure Search Services.

Mesh brings together all the apps and tools that help leaders recreate water cooler chats virtually in the hybrid workplace. These include –

To know more about Mesh 3.0, you can schedule a personalized consultation with our SharePoint intranet experts.