How to Have Watercooler Moments When Your Team Is Remote

With the outbreak of Coronavirus, WFH (Work From Home) has become a necessity for many companies. The good news is working remotely has been happening for years. Speaking from my experience, I have had the opportunity to manage remote employees here in  Canada and I am very grateful to have had great experiences supporting   some of the brightest healthcare teams.

Studies show that when employees have the option to work remotely, they feel a stronger sense  of work-life balance, which can boost productivity and overall well-being, ultimately saving the company money in the long run.  According to Owl Labs State of Remote Work 2019, more remote workers are putting in forty plus hours per week because they enjoy what they do when compared to on-site workers.

 

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But how can you maintain water cooler moments when your staff work remotely?By water cooler moments, I mean those informal chit chats that normally occur when teammates take a break together and spend a few minutes – or much longer – to chat about random topics. They help trigger and diffuse ideas and information across an organization, allow team members to know each other better and coalesce as a whole, and sometimes turn into hour-long chats around multiple coffees to get extremely productive work done.

 

Here are some tips that have been working for me;

1. Set your company expectations

Create a guide to working remotely for employees. Not all employees are “inherently wired” to work remotely. Offer them tips to stay productive and avoid the distractions of working at home.

2. Provide the right tools

Make sure each employee has access to the systems, training, and information they need to get their work done. Utilize technologies that facilitate collaboration and engagement, like Zoom, Slack, and G-Suite. Your employees need access to technology that allows them to collaborate effectively with fellow employees, suppliers, and customers.

3.Communicate, communicate, communicate

I am not a fan of meetings for the sake of meetings, I even wrote a blog, Meetings Can Lower IQs: Mitigate the Risk, but communication can just be touching base in addition to formal meetings. A common argument against remote employment is that “water cooler” moments are lost. Not all communication needs to include a video interaction, but many tools offer “face to face” conversations.Body language and expressions can be critical in understanding someone’s state of mind and level of engagement.

4. Make it part of your company culture.

By making informal conversation part of your company culture from the start, you’ll find that people are more open and receptive to engage with their colleagues. It can be as simple as asking at the start of the day what people got up to the night before. As remoters, a lot of people will be traveling or working from exotic locations! Usually, there is something exciting to talk about. More often than not, when asked people are more than willing to engage and open up. This still holds up even for those working from home.

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5. Utilise instant messaging tools

Most remote companies are now using a multitude of tools to make sure that people are in direct contact with each other. Asynchronous communication is, of course, useful and emails are still part of most people’s daily communication, but it’s difficult to create watercooler moments through this channel. Whether you’re using Slack, Asana or some other tool, make sure to create a social channel within the program for people to have more relaxed and casual conversations. The ability to use gifs and emojis can also really help bring emotion into what people are writing too.

6. Meeting About Nothing

At least once a while have an open forum meeting with no agenda. The facilitator may have to treat it like a brainstorming session. When you prompt people to talk about random stuff they usually don’t. So the meeting about nothing should really be more of a couple of random topics. Conversations with coworkers don’t have to be all work and no play. Leaders should intentionally create the time and space for de-stressing with non-work-related banter. By initiating casual discussion, you not only get to know your colleagues better, but you provide needed physical and mental breaks. Actively encouraging and participating in these kinds of conversations help build trust, unity, and inclusion.

 7. Create safe places 

In order to do a health check, you need to have a safe and trusting environment. Not only that, group norms, or behaviors and traditions, have some of the highest impact on team dynamics and performance. Google’s research on this topic from Project Aristotle showed that “psychological safety pointed to particular norms that are vital to success.”

To keep remote workers motivated in the current business environment created by the COVID-19 pandemic, managers will have to utilize a variety of technology tools and communication methods in their remote team management strategies that encourage engagement, collaboration, satisfaction and accountability among workers.

8. Provide direction with confidence

It the time of uncertainty, your team members are relying on leadership to set the tone.  Communicate regularly with employees and ensure to maintain an open dialog while doing so.

Now, more than ever, it’s important to acknowledge stress or concerns teams may have and empathize with their struggles. To open the conversation, you can simply begin checking in with asking something like, “How is the remote work situation going so far?” This question can elicit important feedback that the worker otherwise may not have brought to your attention.

 

 

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