Four Ways to Create a “Digital Watercooler” for Your Remote Workforce

It won’t be long before films like “Office Space” and TV’s “The Office” become ancient time capsules that showcase inter-office dress codes, decorum and banter that have gone the way of the dinosaur. You know, simpler days when collaboration was segmented by cubicle jungles and the term “watercooler gossip” had a literal connotation. Now we’re in the age of the remote workplace — employees can work from anywhere, devices have replaced desktops and the physical workplace has become any hub that can serve up alphabet soup like BYOD, IoT and UC.

While they don’t allow for the quirky close encounters of the physical workplace, remote environments have perks of their own — increased productivity chief among them. According to research compiled by Global Workplace Analytics, over two-thirds of employers say their telecommuters get more work done. Remote workers at American Express were found to be 43% more productive than their in-house colleagues.

Driven by statistics like these, it should be no surprise that remote workforce trends aren’t slowing down. A new report from Global Workplace Analytics reveals that half of U.S. employees hold a remote-friendly job, and as much as a quarter work fully remote at some frequency.

Inevitably, the rise of the remote workplace raises concerns that what organizations gain in convenience and productivity they lose in comradery and morale. But if we can’t turn back time and bring back the experience of the daily watercooler chat, maybe it’s time we bring the watercooler into the world of remote work. Quartz even published an article from Telstra offering a few suggestions.

1. Gamification

In their article, Telstra highlights how companies are leveraging common tools to mediate banter-friendly competition among remote employees. For example, Zapier uses weekly video calls to play party games like “Two Truths and a Lie.”

2. Virtualized Events

Try putting a virtual spin on workplace events like holiday parties, potlucks and banquets. Workplace events are often a time to recognize and celebrate our people — or just a place to let down our hair and not talk about “work stuff.” And there’s no rule that says employees need to be in the same room to enjoy these festivities.

3. Don’t Let Folks Be Strangers

Unfortunately, the adage “out of sight, out of mind” can ring true for remote teams. Because remote teams are physically dispersed, it’s easy for everyday communication to dwindle. Hubstaff suggests you prioritize and encourage frequent, regularly-scheduled communication to ensure your remote employees don’t feel like they’re on islands.

4. Be Positive

Positive recognition and encouragement goes a long way — especially when you can’t look employees or teammates in the eyes. Hubstaff also encourages remote teams to keep communication positive and inclusive, no matter how formal or casual the interaction may be.

Fun, positive communication processes can go a long way in bringing out the best of your remote workforce. These processes have to start somewhere, and in most cases that’s at the leadership level. Get more insight for setting up an effective remote workforce program by reading our blog post, “Teleworking Programs Start in the Office.”