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Creating A Virtual Water Cooler

The COVID-19 virus has forced some companies to do what others have done voluntarily for years: that is allow employees to work from home.  Most USA-based companies have any number of functions performed remotely and therefore have supporting rules, policies and a work at home (WAH) culture.  I won’t go into all that it takes to manage work production and client expectations when people move out of the office. Each company has to figure that out on their own.  However, I do want to talk about the shift from an employee perspective for those companies who are new to managing WAH environments.  

One of the first things WAH changes is the opportunity to chit-chat with peers.  

You know, the morning and afternoon routine of getting coffee or tea while chatting with your colleagues in the break area.  That chit-chat may seem inconsequential but is in fact an important part of office culture. Key communication and relationship building occur around the “water cooler”.

 

This is a great time to keep the water cooler chit-chat going.  Employees may be disbursed but there are ways to simulate the practice.  

  • Use video conferencing as much as possible.  Seeing each other will help keep colleagues connected.  
  • Start meetings with more than hello.  Forego diving right into the agenda and perhaps have everyone share their best or most humorous tricks for coping with spending 24/7 with the entire family.  
  • A few companies are even doing hilarious home office tours that are opening up employees in a few and fun way.

 

It’s inevitable that you’ll hear a dog bark or child whine in the background while on conference calls.  Help everyone expect and accept the interruptions. If employees are up for it, have families introduce themselves (pets included) on a video conference. Now is a great way to introduce employees to each other's' lives outside the office.

 

If your company has a private social media platform, use that in a new and intentional way.  As a leader, you can use enterprise-wide social media networks to share up to the minute information.  These networks may also help you understand more about what your teams are working on. Giving you and other leaders insight into where teams may need assistance or a push to keep going forward. 

 

 Encourage employees to use the platform for sharing ideas and collaborating with teams other than their own.   The network will help employees feel less isolated and can be a place of support for them.  

 

These are just a few of my ideas.  How do or would you keep the water cooler chit-chat going?

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