When you’re communicating with your distributed team, it’s so easy to just start talking about deliverables and things you need ASAP. Things that are due right away. Things that you need to work on.
It’s easy to have those conversations when you’re next to each other as you walk by someone’s desk or cubicle—but when you have a distributed team and no one is in the same office, you end up not having casual conversations. Instead, conversations are all about work.
What happens then is you kind of get tuned out—especially if you’re adding ASAP to every conversation. These types of demands send the message that you really don’t care about your team, and that all you do is care bout the next thing that needs to get done…it’s not that you really don’t care, but what’s communicated to your team is that you don’t care about them.
Below are some reasons to add water cooler conversations to your video calls with your distributed teams.
“The simple opportunity to run into others may be one of the most overlooked privileges of modern work life, and the one aspect of the office that work from home can rarely replicate,” Pacific Standard says. Online social tools make it easy to maintain friendships, but even all the amazing tools make it hard to “bump into” people by chance. “Such contacts are essential for sociability, for maintaining a set of relations that, rather than being instrumental, simply are.” The author also points out that, “well over 100 years after the invention of the telephone made talking across hundreds of miles possible, people still feel the need to meet in person.”
2. Water cooler talk improves camaraderie and cohesion
Water cooler talk improves employee engagement, improves collaboration to generate better ideas, and reduces tension and stress—meaning less turnover and healthier company culture. The key here is generating camaraderie among coworkers to strengthen the team.
It’s called tribe building. “With increased cohesion likely comes an increase in things such as shared tacit knowledge, shared attitudes and work habits, and social support. This happens through office chat about how to manage specific situations, people, and problems, sharing tips, talking about life-work balance, and so forth.” Important information about what goes on at work isn’t always found in a memo.
Studies have shown that people who don’t have casual conversation are actually less productive and less able to carry out their jobs when casual conversations were not possible. Casual conversation is a way to come up with new ideas, coordinate, make decisions quickly, and build trust.
So, when your team is distributed, you won’t receive these benefits unless you deliberately build time into your day. You must consciously leave room on video calls or chat for conversation that isn’t about work. Asking them about their day, asking them what’s going on. What are some things that are happening where you’re located—especially if this is an international team—what holidays are happening, what news is going on? That kind of a conversation leads to much deeper relationships with your team, much more camaraderie. And when you have much more camaraderie you end up working harder for that team. It’s just as simple as having a team that is working together, communicating, and actually cares about one another—they’re more apt to work harder, to actually do the things that you need to talk about the urgent tasks, because everyone knows that you have their best interest in mind.
Check out this video about the water cooler.