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With the shift to remote and hybrid workplaces, leaders and executives need to reimagine the future of work for their employees and organisations. Today, it’s clear that most employees prefer flexible working models. And while remote work offers employees invaluable lifestyle benefits and greater flexibility, the shift also presents a unique set of challenges. For one, remote workers are more likely to forego spontaneous conversations (or small talk) with fellow colleagues. The so-called water cooler chats enable employees to get to know each other on a personal level.

If you’re leading a remote workforce, there are several ways you can benefit from incorporating a virtual water cooler in your workplace.

But first, what are virtual cooler moments?

It’s a metaphor for the office kitchen, coffee machine, snack table or anywhere else that’s popular amongst your employees for small talk. It’s usually a place for social interaction, rest or rehydration – the perfect place for an informal break. More than anything, it’s a physical space that allows your employees to connect and unplug from work, even if it’s just for a moment.

Why water cooler chats are important for remote workers

It’s clear that remote workers can work independently to get things done. But teamwork and team bonding are also an integral part of your business. As a leader, you’ll need to ensure your team members have the opportunity to bond with one another – this helps to encourage collaboration and a sense of belonging.

Water cooler chats also promote innovation. For example, colleagues might bounce ideas off of each other, or brainstorm ideas that can lead to tangible improvements for your business. These impromptu, informal chats also boost employee engagement. A more engaged workforce reinforces your company culture and gives employees a sense of belonging.

How do you revive water cooler chats when your workforce is working remotely?

Whether it’s through virtual meetings or a team-based chat app, technology can help you create fertile ground for water cooler chats. For one, virtual meetings allow your team members to meet one another. Try organising fun online meetings, like quiz night, happy hour or a virtual club.

Alternatively, you can give employees access to a team-based chat application. Whether it’s Microsoft Teams, Slack or another chat software that promotes both productivity and spontaneous messaging, these platforms facilitate conversations.

Embrace the new normal

At least one-third of employees surveyed by McKinsey said that they are likely to switch jobs if they were asked to fully return to on-site work. Moreover, employees want to work from home at least three days a week. At least one-third of employees want to work remotely full-time. Therefore it’s clear that flexible working models are here to stay.

Leaders are tasked with ensuring that their employees feel connected with their colleagues and the broader company. Give your employees the opportunity to connect, build and flourish by reintroducing virtual water cooler moments.