The Importance of the Water Cooler Conversation

According to Buffer’s State of Remote report for 2020, 57% of those surveyed now work completely remotely, and 16.5% work remotely 76-99% of the time. With so many businesses and private entities going remote, we have to ask the question: What about the water cooler conversation?

Conversations around the water cooler, literal or proverbial, have long been a topic of focus for leaders. While some older models of management may have frowned upon time spent away from employees’ desks, in recent years, the idea of allowing staff to socialize within reason has gained traction.

The culture of a business is a strong motivator for many employees. In fact, for many, it ranks higher on their list of priorities than salary and increases. 

Having a strong corporate culture allows everyone involved to work together toward the common goal or greater good. By allowing staff to connect and chat about things other than work projects, leaders essentially assist teams to become stronger and more in tune with each other.

Having the opportunity for water cooler chats has been shown to help successful businesses retain staff. This is likely because individuals have the chance to mingle with a wider variety of people in the workplace, leading to less isolation, even for those who are socially anxious. Feeling part of a team means more employee engagement, and that leads to individuals who integrate and form a valuable part of the whole. 

Having the chance to chat with managers on a more social level opens the doors to future professional conversations that may otherwise seem difficult. In addition, engaging with employees in a relaxed way can give managers insight into the character, personality, strengths and weaknesses of their staff. 

A tool that can be utilized when allocating projects and planning mentoring or training.

So, now that we know how great water cooler conversations are, and how important they are for companies, what is the answer in this remote or semi-remote working world?

According to the survey, workers stated that the 2 most frustrating elements of working remotely are:

  1. Missing the social component to teamwork (70%)
  2. The inability to collaborate spontaneously (43%)

The answer is a virtual water cooler.

There are a few online options for templates out there. 

Two examples are “Mural” and “Donut”, but the general idea is the same. Set up a virtual space that can fulfil the same roles that the physical break room would. Think of including a monthly calendar with work and fun events, topics for discussion, birthdays and other important days, inspiring quotes, bookshelf/book club, virtual fridge (what’s everyone’s favourite snack at the mo?), photo sharing and a place for live or staggered chat. Your only limit is your imagination, so make it fun and interactive and help your staff to enjoy it.

As with a physical water cooler, think of some ground rules to include, to ensure the culture of the company is maintained and the space is a positive one. Some ideas of rules may include:

  • Keep it positive
  • Discuss interests
  • Ask questions
  • Don’t create drama
  • Don’t discuss salary or promotions
  • Think of ways to make the day better for at least one person you meet

Even with specifically set up digital water coolers, there is another very important way that you can ensure that your colleagues and staff are getting that fix of dopamine that we all get incidentally around the water cooler: communication. The best digital communicators exude personality, with context, emoticons and other ways to get the full message across. We generally read people’s intentions with tone of voice, a look of the eye, little twitches and more, so that needs to come across in your writing and images that you share.


The water cooler is a relaxed space, where colleagues can gather and connect, taking a well-deserved breather from the gruelling workday. Whether yours is physical or digital, be sure to make it a place you and your staff can enjoy.

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