Let the Conversation Flow at the Virtual Watercooler

Cassy Aite
May 30, 2023
Let the Conversation Flow at the Virtual Watercooler

Remote work certainly has its benefits — improved work-life balance, higher productivity levels, and more engaged employees. Despite these amazing perks for both employers and employees, a dark side lurks in the world of telecommuting: loneliness.

In a time where more people are connected than ever across the globe, the disconnect is surprisingly rampant. According to a Glassdoor survey of over 2,000 remote employees, 58% stated that they felt isolated and lonely all or a majority of the time. Only 51% interact with colleagues or coworkers on a monthly basis, further compounding the problem.

Such issues can play out in many ways for remote or hybrid companies. Burnout, lower productivity, poor mental health, lessening employee morale, and fading company culture are all major risks. That’s why companies should prioritize camaraderie and social interaction.

But how? The question lingers in the minds of business owners, leaders, and managers across the globe.

The answer just might lie in the virtual watercooler. Taking the same idea of the office’s favorite casual conversation setting but rolling it into a virtual forum, organizations can encourage conversation, team bonding, and restoration of morale, engagement, and culture.

So grab a cup of coffee (or water) and enter the world of virtual watercoolers with great aplomb. Your success depends on it.

What Is a Virtual Watercooler?

A virtual watercooler is a digital space or platform shared by remote workers intended solely for the purpose of informal interaction and conversation. It’s where your employees go to unwind, discuss the latest Netflix show, or get to know one another.

Water cooler chat has been around for generations, even if the water cooler wasn’t present. It’s a public area such as a break room, conference room, or empty workspace where coworkers could get together, talk about their weekends, or chat about their interests and personal lives.

With distributed, hybrid, or remote teams, the death of office watercooler chat looms. Sure, alternatives like Slack, social media, and messaging apps help, but few options beat the in-person watercooler chat that fosters conversation and forges friendships.

That’s until you decide to implement a virtual substitute. A virtual watercooler can get you about as close to the real thing as possible, regardless of time zones or geographic location. By creating a specific place for team members to take a break and check work discussions at the door, you provide an integral outlet to boost morale and engagement.

Why Is a Virtual Watercooler Important?

Team meeting at the virtual watercooler

Much like employee recognition, a virtual watercooler can stimulate a sense of community among your virtual teams, even if they can’t meet face-to-face. Aside from community, some of the major bonuses of creating a virtual watercooler include:

  • Better communication: Perhaps it seems counterintuitive that informal conversation would lead to better communication overall, but that’s just what it does. When team members can connect at the virtual watercooler, they’re more apt to reach out if they have an issue, need help on a task, or require important information from other people.
  • Ideation: Brainstorming is an integral part of many departments across a variety of industries. When you get people together in an informal forum, the exchange of even non-work-related ideas can lead to team-building activities, inspiration, motivation, and creative solutions.
  • Functional work environment: Remote workers feel the brunt of isolation, which can stymie teamwork, growth, and employee engagement. But when different teams and individuals gather and start to see each other as real people, a more functional virtual office environment results.
  • Positivity: Humans feel the need for interaction, but they also subconsciously desire cognitive and emotional empathy. The thought that others feel the same way you do is akin to fitting in and belonging. It allows people to open up, express themselves, and form bonds — all of which lead to a more positive work environment.
  • Company-specific advantages: Every company has a mission and vision for how their organization should function. Some companies have ping pong and free lunch; others allow employees to bring their dogs to work. Away from a physical office, these are impossible. But with a virtual watercooler, you can craft a new identity among your employees. One that can create a strong company culture and promote pride in your employees.  

How To Start a Virtual Watercooler for Your Business

Just like buying a water cooler or a coffee machine for the office, setting up a virtual water cooler for your business is affordable and easy. It should only take you a few hours to complete the process from start to finish. So without further ado, here’s how to get your virtual water cooler talk up and running.

1. Choose the Right Platform

You essentially have two platforms to start your virtual watercooler: video-conferencing software or collaborative software that offers group chats. Each offers its own benefits. While video calls can help you put a face to a name, see people’s reactions, and read body language, collaborative software is often easier for multitasking and likely to encourage more participation. You can put it to a vote if that provides a quicker decision.

Some options for each include:

  • Video-conferencing platforms: Zoom, Mural, Microsoft Teams, Miro, LucidSpark, Miro, and Klaxoon
  • Collaborative software platforms: Slack, Trello, Asana, Around, and Notion

Virtual Watercooler Ideas

Once you’ve chosen the platform that works for you, the next step is to find a virtual watercooler activity that will excite your employees and encourage participation. On video-conferencing platforms, you may have to create the watercooler activity on your own; most plug-ins, add-ons, and other programs won’t necessarily work.

However, collaborative platforms are far more versatile. Many companies create programs that work specifically with Slack or similar platforms. If you want a simpler, automated virtual watercooler, this is the optimal choice.

Now for the fun part — choosing the interaction that you want. Whether your goal is an icebreaker, a quick coffee break, or a daily or weekly meetup, you’re spoiled for choice. Here are some of the best options.

Lunch Roulette — Best for Lunch Dates and Virtual Coffee

If you want a fully automated way to introduce employees or have informal virtual meetings, Lunch Roulette from Hoppier is an excellent choice. This Slack-integrated program pairs random people from your company over a time frame you choose. Once selected, the participants choose a time and then meet up for a virtual lunch, coffee, happy hour, or whatever else they want. It’s quick, easy, and saves time compared to manually creating such meetings.

Donut — Best for Asynchronous Conversation Starters

Donut is another Slack- and Enterprise Grid-integrated software that’s an excellent virtual water cooler conversation starter. Through Donut, you select a few topics, such as “favorite travel destinations,” “best albums of the 90s,” or “binge shows.” Your team gets these messages and responds in the Donut channel created in your collaboration platform. It’s asynchronous, so everyone can participate. But it’s definitely liable to get people talking.

Water Cooler Trivia — Best for Trivia Games

Let’s face it. Everyone likes to tout their useless knowledge publicly. So put that notion to a little friendly competition with Water Cooler Trivia. Hand-written each week by a team of trivia pros, the questions are never repeated, ensuring a fair competition no matter who’s involved. It also keeps standings — giving the trivia king or queen their fair share of recognition and bragging rights.

Booky — Best for Book Clubs

If you have a team of bookworms or you just want to suggest books that have imparted knowledge, excitement, or intrigue, Booky is another great option. Located within the Slack App Directory, you don’t need to add or buy anything extra.

Just find the book you want, add it to the Slack channel, and it will show a synopsis and description of the book. Participants can chat about the book later, add in some of their favorites, or encourage everyone to read one book simultaneously. Instead of binge-watching shows, this can promote learning and reading, all while giving you plenty of fodder for the virtual watercooler.

How To Promote Participation

Team having a virtual happy hour and coffee break

No matter what platform and watercooler activity you select, participation can always be an issue. Between playing work catchup, tackling a busy social life, or dealing with people still in their pandemic social shell, it’s an uphill battle to get your virtual watercooler working.

So if you’re worried about putting in the effort only to have a handful of people participate, use these ideas to encourage participation:

  • Provide plenty of notice: It doesn’t matter whether you’re having a regularly scheduled activity or you’re ad-libbing, you should let employees know well ahead of time. Send out invites and emails weeks in advance to get the best turnout.
  • Choose the right activity: You know your employees perhaps better than anyone. And if you don’t personally know them, your manager will. In either case, choose an activity that aligns with their interests. This will pique their curiosity, and hopefully, bring them to the watercooler.
  • Make it optional: Making informal conversations compulsory makes the virtual watercooler feel like a chore. Strongly encourage it without making it mandatory for better results.

Get Employees to the Virtual Watercooler With Help From Hoppier

Participation is always an issue in the virtual world. Everyone always seems busy and making a virtual watercooler mandatory kills the entire vibe. So if you want your employees to get on board, let Hoppier help.

With our convenient virtual cards, you can give people the gift of coffee, water, cocktails, or lunch on your chosen budget — or whatever your team needs to get them to the virtual watercooler. All that’s left to do is the conversation flowing like water.

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Ready to 2x your global engagement at your next event, with Ox stress?

Make Hoppier your unfair advantage today, schedule a demo

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Ready to 2x your global engagement at your next event, with Ox stress?

Make Hoppier your unfair advantage today, schedule a demo


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