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The Importance of Watercooler Talk

The watercooler has long been lauded as a place where great ideas are spawned; where concepts are brainstormed, and problems solved.

Perhaps that’s a bit of a reach but spending a few minutes each day chatting with your colleagues really can help build connections on a personal level; lead to increased communication, motivation, and ultimately productivity. The work atmosphere changes when you like the people you work with when you know someone’s got your back when you’re not afraid to ask, or okay, you discover some top-secret tidbit that’s going to help land your next ask on the CEO’s desk.

Covid-19 has put a stop to a lot of watercooler talk. Workers are sitting at home barely talking to a soul all day. Nobody stops by, nobody goes out; it’s very easy to develop feelings of loneliness and even despondency. The side effects of isolation in the workplace are many – some are immediately apparent, but others remain hidden as they are often of a more personal nature. These can include:

  • The feeling of being disconnected from everyone.

  • Anxiety over whether you are missing out; are you contributing, etc.

  • There’s the dark side of technology -- people finding it hard to disengage at the end of the day which can go hand-in-hand with poor sleep patterns and a spiral into depression.

People don’t like to tell others that they’re lonely, and often the early signs of loneliness go unrecognized. Issues like these can manifest in the workplace as a lack of engagement, morale, commitment, and performance. And in a person’s well-being as tiredness or restlessness, and perhaps ultimately as serious health problems.

If you’re wondering what we can do to mitigate the downside of remote working, recognition of the potential for a problem is a great first step.

Here at Brightvine working remotely is an everyday occurrence because as a team of consultants we are all home-based. We’ve gotten used to working this way, but it’s not a lifestyle that everyone can adapt to.

Because we’re not in the same office, online communication is very important to us. We use an online chat app where everyone is accessible on both computer and phone, and we use video conferencing when needed. This is our version of watercooler talk, and it’s critical now more than ever because even if our workday hasn’t changed because of covid, our life outside of work has felt the impact, and that can have a knock-on effect.

So what can we do to help each other? It’s important to talk, not just to email and IM.

  • Organize frequent check-ins and stand-ups, these will keep your staff informed, and offer them the opportunity to contribute.

  • Encourage some social chit chat. We all know we can’t spend all day making small talk, but how about incorporating some light-hearted informal chat at the end of a meeting?

  • Keep an eye on those who show signs of vulnerability – the employee who says “you’re the only person I’ve spoken to all day”, or the new-hire who was interviewed remotely, has never met their colleagues, and is now taking on the challenges of a new role.

  • Consider scheduling short breaks where your team can unwind and chat, you don’t need a specific agenda for these calls, 20 minutes of downtime with no distractions from work can help reset someone’s mood for the day.

At Brightvine we incorporate all these ideas. We’ve always had regular standups to keep the team well informed of our client needs and progress made, but we also take time to socialize -- 10 minutes at the end of a call, monthly team meetings, etc. all give a feeling of inclusivity. We meet as a Company; by the technical or functional team, and as small groups (these are groups of 4-5 people who may not work together on a regular basis, and we rotate the groups every quarter so that everyone gets to circulate).

And then there’s the retreat. For some years now we’ve held an annual retreat where we get away for some important team and relationship building. This year that in-person escape obviously can’t happen, but we’re planning a virtual version to maintain the continuity and to build on the relationships we have. This will take the form of a series of video calls; we’ll break into teams, we’ll change up those teams; we’ll do icebreaker sessions, scavenger hunts, photo-sharing; perhaps some of it will be work-specific, there’ll probably be some talk of product design, exploration of customizations, etc., but overall it will be fun, and that’s what’s important. We all need to talk and to share because none of us are alone in this.

Covid may have changed how we interact, but it has made us more creative in finding new ways to meet the needs of our teams and clients.


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