Creating meaningful watercooler moments for a remote team can be daunting for leaders, here are 4 simple ways to get you started!
4 Ways to Create Meaningful Watercooler Moments for Your Remote Team
I recently had the chance to sit down and talk with Tony Bodoh (Senior Consultant) and Betsy Westhafer (CEO) at The Congruity Group. They’re an amazing organization that helps organizations improve customer retention and accelerate growth. The Congruity Group had a podcast all about loving and caring for your customers and your employees. This is especially important in this new virtual world.
I invite you to listen to the full podcast. I think it’s an enlightening conversation that all leaders should get involved in. It also got me thinking about how we do things here at the Brave Thinking Institute. I’m proud of our process and I think our example can help you make your company culture the absolute best in the world.
At the Brave Thinking Institute, our team has been virtual for a long time. But that doesn’t stop us from being an engaged workforce. In fact, our team exhibits all of the core values we hold dear. A lot of that comes back to our ability to create meaningful “watercooler moments” – even in a remote environment.
If you’re just moving to a remote workforce environment, it can be difficult to create a healthy, engaged team culture from scratch. There are so many subtle differences between working together in an office and leading remote teams.
But it’s not impossible. Today, I’m going to give you four easy remote team management tips that you can do. These are completely actionable. You can start these today to cultivate that winning culture for your team.
Remote Team Management | What Are Watercooler Moments?
In any traditional office setting, there are ample opportunities for staff to talk on a personal level. It’s just a part of the day.
You walk past Betsy’s desk in accounting and have a short, polite conversation.
You run into Steve in the breakroom and tell him about a new restaurant you tried that weekend.
These little things add up to relationships. When I talk about “watercooler moments,” these are the small personal interactions that build up over time into relationships. These moments are so very important for morale and for simple joy. A team that deeply connects on a personal level has fun together, performs better, and is likely to be a lot happier in your company.
Of course, those watercooler moments are harder to come by in a remote environment. It can be difficult to simulate the socialization of a typical in-person organization. Our team is 100% virtual and has been since 2014. But I’m not going to tell you that was an easy adjustment for me. I had many years of experience working on location at my organizations, before moving to this remote environment.
I had those same feelings of loneliness and isolation that are so common for remote workers at first. But we found ways to use the technology available and our own desire to create real connections.
4 Ways to Boost Company Culture for Your Remote Team
When you lead a remote team, there are a few concerns. You need to find ways to create connections even though your staff isn’t in the same location.
For remote teams, distractions can become an issue. When you spend eight hours on a computer by yourself, it’s not easy to stay on task or determine priorities! You can’t check in with your supervisor as he walks past your desk. There are no huddles around the coffee pot.
So how do you create connection and eliminate loneliness?
How do you get rid of distractions and increase productivity?
Today, I want to share four things that we do at the Brave Thinking Institute. They’ve worked tremendously for us and I think your team will find them useful, too.
Four ways to recreate the watercooler in a virtual environment:
- Get On Camera and Work Together
- Team Huddles
- Department Chats and Personal Interactions
- Share a Meal Together
1 — Get On Camera and Work Together
This might sound odd, but it worked great for me. In 2014, switching to a remote work environment was completely foreign to me. I’d been in a brick and mortar business for almost 30 years. I was accustomed to large organizations with many people. There was a lot of contact with others, even just in passing. Small conversations in the hallway, team meetings, and in person lunches.
The first thing I noticed in a virtual environment was loneliness. I went from team meetings and connecting with people all day to not seeing anyone. Home alone, I felt disconnected.
I reached out to my Executive Assistant and we came up with an idea to simulate the office work environment that we had in person.
At the time, we were using Skype. You might use any number of video conferencing solutions. The provider doesn’t matter, as long as your team is all using the same applications.
At first, we just turned on the video conferencing and continued our work. She was on my screen and vice versa. This allowed us to quickly ask each other questions and have short conversations throughout our day.
The level of distraction went down and the level of productivity skyrocketed. The feelings of loneliness decreased and we felt more connected. It was amazing. We did this every day for two weeks.
As we moved forward with other ideas to increase connection, we decreased the number of days and hours. We do still have times where we leave the cameras on and work side by side.
This is something you can try with your teams. You don’t need to leave the camera on all day. Maybe you can pick a day a week or a set time frame.
2 — Team Huddles
With a virtual team, there is no watercooler to gather around. We needed to create our own. We decided to simulate this as a company and as individual teams.
There are about 100 people currently in our organization. As you can imagine, getting everyone together wouldn’t allow for that type of relationship building. But, if you break it into teams, having daily and weekly huddles, you get an environment where team members can exchange more freely.
We have team huddles in every department. Many departments have more than one team with overlapping people. Some of our staff members are on multiple teams. Each team has their own huddle schedules. Your team might meet on Monday for a quick chat that’s not work related or only partially work related.
In group huddles, we might have each member share one thing they’re proud of and one thing that they’re grateful for. But these things do not need to be work related. It’s a great way to live by our own core values while encouraging our staff to share both personally and professionally.
We also don’t stick to rigid meeting schedules for every huddle. There may be some meetings that need to be restricted for productivity’s sake. But as a whole, we encourage team leaders and staff to find time to play, joke, and share bits of their own life.
3 — Department Chats and Personal Interactions
We actively encourage our team members to develop personal relationships with each other. This means making room for joking and conversations that aren’t entirely about work in all of our channels. We enjoy joy. When you make room for that, you’ll find it actually increases productivity and performance. When everyone’s having fun, they’re at their highest energy level.
Technology has made it possible for you to keep the team almost as connected remotely as they would be in an office. We use Skype as an instant messaging platform, but you can use any program your team is comfortable with.
Team members add each other to their contacts. We have whole company chats that everyone is added to. We also have individual team chats and staff members have personal chats going with other team members.
This is a great way to ping each other to ask a time sensitive question. But it’s more than that. We encourage fun here too. This is another aspect of our watercooler.
Members will drop GIFs, make jokes, use the chats to announce successes, and cheer each other on. It’s like our very own little social media network just for our company.
4 — Share a Meal together
The last thing I’m going to suggest is sharing a meal together. When you work in an organization, lunch and dinner meetings are common.
That’s because sharing a meal together is a great way to further relationships and engage.
There’s no reason to stop doing that. Even if you are virtual. If your team is located across the globe, you can still set lunch or dinner meetings using your favorite video conferencing solution. For teams that are local but don’t work in a physical location, I highly recommend getting together for a meal every once in a while.
Leadership, Remote Team Building, and Inspiration
Creating a great company culture is a top priority for a successful organization. Believe it or not, watercooler moments are a huge part of that spirit of joy and fun. You need to find ways to recreate and simulate that easy exchange for your remote staff.
These four tips will help get you started. But don’t stop there. You’ll notice something about my list of things for remote team building. They’re all processes we came up with through trial and error.
No one told me to turn on the video application for the whole day. My assistant and I realized that isolation was an issue and came up with a creative solution. They say that necessity is the mother of invention.
I invite you to look at the things that you need to improve in your remote work teams, and see how technology can help you simulate a real work environment.
If you’re looking for more tools to spur your inspiration, I have a guided meditation that will help you unlock your creativity and innovative leadership skills.
Stop by to download my free Developing a Mastery of Leadership Meditation. It’s a short 15-minute guided meditation that you can use any time to cultivate a mindset of unlimited potential, for your organization and your team.