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Why Virtual Water Coolers Are What Your Distributed Team Needs

Man and woman drinking coffee and talking

One of the most significant advantages of having distributed teams is productivity. Remote workers tend to be more productive when they work from home for many reasons, such as lower stress levels of fewer distractions. In offices, the noise from the environment or your co-workers makes you unfocused. Yet, small talk in places like water coolers or coffee corners could turn out to be beneficial. In these places, co-workers can establish good relationships, exchange advice, have new ideas, or even fall in love (Water coolers AKA the companies private Tinder). So many positive consequences from simple spaces!

But…what happens in the case of distributed teams?

There is a myth about remote workers – that they are pajama employees, have no social skills and always carry a computer as if it was a newborn still attached by the umbilical cord. 

Sure, they might work in pajamas (who knows), but they do communicate a lot. Distributed teams are aware that if they don’t, the company falls apart. But talking is not the same as bonding. Take this fact to heart and it can be a game-changer for your company. You don’t have to go crazy about not having cafeterias, water coolers, or coffee shops for your home-based team.

We are in the 21st century, everything is possible in a remote organization; implementing a business cadence around your team workflow or even virtual water coolers! For example, Slack conversations, or zoom video calls about random topics. Even book clubs! This leads to the next question:

Why is it so important to have virtual water coolers to build stronger relations while managing distributed teams?


1. Virtual employees get a chance to bond

Humans are social beings by nature. They have the necessity of relating to others; in other words, the need for bonding. The word Bond means that there is a close connection among people, not a simple exchange of looks or words. Bonding makes two or more people understand each other with more depth. We all feel this necessity to relate with other people in all kinds of contexts, including in the work environment.

 Money doesn’t have to be the only motivation for work. Imagine having a job where one of your motivations is getting some positive emotion from your co-workers. Sounds good, right? For remote home-based jobs, this might seem hard. Yet, all one needs to do is to encourage virtual teams to have spaces where they can talk with their colleagues. For example, with the right tools, events like virtual “Coffee meetings,” can bring back the water cooler effect. With initiatives like this, coworkers get to know each other, and even though they are thousands of km away, they feel close.

2. Boost creativity with virtual water cooler chats

Two Stanford engineering students, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, created Google. Jerry Baldwin, Zev Siegel, and Gordon Bowker created Starbucks. Facebook was born by the conversations of Mark Zuckerberg and other Harvard students. What does this mean? That two minds think better than one.

Great ideas are sometimes born through simple conversations. Virtual water coolers allow distributed teams to create and innovate. To think as a team rather than as an individual, making remote workers perform better at their job. Sometimes someone has an idea but doesn’t know how to execute it, and in these virtual chats or calls coworkers can give a hand.

Man smiling while using his laptop.

3. Strong sense of belonging

This is one fundamental reason why virtual water coolers are a necessity in your distributed team. Remote workers aren’t employees who work, deliver tasks, and produce. That definition suits more robots than actual persons. Remote workers are valuable people who do a valuable job. And it’s important to make them feel that way. 

People like to be part of something and to feel they belong somewhere. That’s why there are communities and clubs around the world about everything you can imagine. Like Potterheads or Star Wars fans, or cosplayers at events like Comic Con.  Studies demonstrate that employees tend to stick to a company that recognizes their work and accomplishments. In other words, companies that insist on employee engagement have better results. But how to create employee engagement when your team is distributed all over the world? You guessed it right: Virtual water coolers.

4. Increase productivity

There is a famous saying that goes “speak less, work more” which basically encourages workers to be the most productive ever by not engaging with distractions at all. However, according to research, employees are only able to focus for about 2hs and 53 minutes. Therefore, in the rest of their work time, they’re not entirely productive. Virtual teams tend to be extra productive for several reasons, but they can still lose focus.

Having the mindset that “the more work, the better” is a huge mistake. When employees have time to rest and to oxygenate their brains, they avoid burnout and perform better. Engaging in conversation or chit-chatting with their coworkers for a couple of minutes a day about how cute the dog in the meme is can be highly beneficial. As a result, employees tend to recharge their energy and boost productivity. 

5. Improve collaboration with the water cooler effect

When people in distributed teams have time to know each other in water cooler chats or video calls, they end up changing the perception they had of their colleagues. When they learn about their colleague’s food preferences or their movie taste, they start to relate to them. As a result, they stop seeing their coworker as a complete stranger and start making closer relations that lead to teamwork. 

Psychology says that when you connect with others and establish a relationship, you develop empathy. Empathic coworkers tend to collaborate more, giving feedback, or helping out whenever needed. Also, they communicate more transparently. So, growing collaboration in your home-based team is a great way to form a healthy environment where coworkers can feel free to give helpful feedback to one another and strengthen their skills.

Virtual Water Cooler Ideas

Are you still struggling to find out ways of creating team building activities remotely?  Some companies think it’s not necessary, but as stated above, having virtual water coolers has many significant benefits. But how to connect teams spread worldwide? Here are 5 virtual water cooler examples:  

1. Happy hours once a month

One of the perks of working at the office is happy hours! Going after work with your colleagues to drink beer and talk of things outside work makes you feel closer to them. So, why not simulating this awesome experience? Once a month, schedule with all your team a video call (sync time zones) and drink a beer or your favorite cocktail while having fun with your colleagues. 

2. Gaming night

There are so many games available that are remote-friendly. If your team loves to play video games, then you can set a time that fits best to everyone, and play! There are games like Pictionary that are perfect to set up with video calls, making the experience even more exciting. 

Some of the online games to play with your virtual teams are:

3. Birthday celebrations

Some studies have proven that remote employees could feel left out or ignored sometimes. This happens especially when managers take the “out of sight, out of mind” motto seriously. But, when celebrating special occasions such as birthdays, employees feel appreciated and valued. First of all, it’s important to know all employees birthdays and keep reminders of them. And secondly, when the date is nearby, organize a Zoom call and gather all the team around to sing happy birthday and make that person feel special. You can even eat lunch together (or dinner) depending on time zones. 

4. Donut calls with Slack

At DistantJob, because we have several departments such as sales, marketing, recruiting, HR, we don’t get to hang out with people outside our primary teams. But Slack offers the Donut feature that consists of a bot that aleatorily arranges meetups with different company members. We connect with other employees that we usually don’t talk with, making us feel closer as a company. 

The idea is to connect with your donut pair once a week and arrange a zoom call to talk about non-related work things. 

5. Movie night!

Does your team dig movies? If the answer is yes, you can organize once in a while a movie night! Applications like Netflix have the option of making a Netflix party, which consists of putting a movie (or whatever you like), and everyone can comment on it and chat about the things happening in the movie. 

Wait… there’s more!

There is one last reason and it’s the most powerful one: Culture. Creating the right kind of culture in a company is one of the most crucial to achieve success. Culture is what makes your employees do their job the best they can because they believe in what they do and how it affects the people they care about.

Virtual water coolers are one of the keys to the development of a company’s culture. They allow employees to realize that they are not only there to produce. It makes them determined and comfortable in the environment they work in; they get to relate, help, and get help from others.

One of the best feelings in life is to hire someone capable of understanding your culture and performing an excellent job. In DistantJob, we want you to have candidates that meet all your requirements. For more information, contact us!

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