How to Create Water Cooler Talk in a Remote Team

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Whether you have been working remotely for years or only a couple of months due to unprecedented social distancing measures, one of the biggest things that remote founders and managers miss about in-office culture is the water cooler talk. These moments are the short hallway conversations that happen by the coffee machine, in the break room, or as you are waiting for a conference room to open.

These small interactions and conversation can contribute to building a strong team culture, better collaboration, and even lead to innovative, new ideas.

However, just because your team is remote doesn’t mean you have to give up the collaboration that typically occurs organically in an office.

In this post, I’ll share tips to help founders and managers create a remote team culture that fosters trust and innovation.

Creating a Great Remote Team Culture

It all starts with the people on your team. If you have the wrong people on your team or people who can’t stand one another, then nothing you do to build water cooler moments will work.

Identifying Key traits that make a great Remote team member

This ultimately starts with making sure that each team member aligns with your company’s values and leadership style.

It also helps to have a mix of A and B players on your team.

The A Players are ambitious, usually self-motivated, and have a growth mindset. These are the types of team members that will move your company forward and solve problems. As they run into challenges, they’re going to immediately think, “Okay, how do I work through this challenge? What are some ways that I can work through this?” Someone with a fixed mindset would just accept the obstacle as the way things are.

While B Players have a more fixed mindset, they are usually reliable, good workers, and take direction well. They tend to be okay with the way things are and don’t look for ways that the company can be improved through their role.

Sharing Strategies for FOSTERING Team COLLABORATION

Just because you have the right people on the team and they are all working hard doesn’t automatically mean you’ll have a collaborative, strong team culture.

Here are some strategies you can implement to strengthen relationships between team members, collaborate more, brainstorm innovative ideas and (dare I say) have fun.

Schedule recurring 1:1 Calls with your Team

While Zoom fatigue is real, the one type of meeting you should always prioritize are 1:1s with your team. This encourages open communication and allows you to check in with your team to make sure they’re getting the support they need. Ideally, these calls happen on a weekly basis. But, if you have a lot of direct reports, it might make sense to host these every other week.

It can be easy for 1:1s to turn into project check-in meetings. While there is nothing wrong with that on occasion, it is helpful to let your direct report drive the meeting. After all, this is their time to bring up new ideas, potential issues, or get valuable 1:1 feedback to help them to do their job better.

Plus, the beginning of your 1:1s is a great time to get to know your team in a more relaxed manner. For example, if they bring up their family, an awesome trip they recently took, or what they did over the weekend, that’s totally okay.

Making time for less formal, non-work related conversations can help to establish a relationship and trust. This can also boost morale. If your employees are working without trust, collaboration or regular feedback, then it’s difficult to get them to connect with the organization and maintain a positive attitude about their work.

Encourage conversations across different departments

Team members have a tendency to collaborate only with the people that are a direct part of their work or project.

Cross-team communication is crucial. For instance, say a company has seven different departments using the same software. They could all be using Trello, but with different subscriptions because they never communicated with each other. Whereas one subscription would have saved the company money, it could have also encouraged the different departments to communicate with each other through the app.

While the above example might be extreme, there are plenty of small actions you can do to improve team communication.

For example, Olark implemented a weekly Show and Tell where team members can volunteer to share a cool thing they learned, talk about a project they worked on, or just a fun hobby. This is not only a great way to get team members to chat with folks outside of their department. It is also a fun way to learn new things. 🙂

Create a dedicated water cooler Slack channel

A great way to get team members to interact and foster watercooler chat is to dedicate a Slack channel to just that. You can even label it the “Watercooler” channel or pick a fun theme that will get people interacting.

For example, you could have a channel called “Fur Babies” that lets your team talk about and share pet pictures, videos, and gifs.

@goldenbernard

Must play with treat before eat ##meetmypet ##goldenretriever ##bernard ##goldensoftiktok ##inyourface ##walkingonadream

♬ original sound – dustinmoody74

Keep in mind that you don’t need to have a set water cooler time. Instead, leave the channels open to the team and let them pop in whenever they want. Natural, water cooler conversations will occur when you give your team members a creative outlet.

Use video calls to build relationships

Communicating via apps, email, and texts is quick and simple. There’s also a written record that can be easily referenced and it lets teams jump into conversations on their own time.

However, video calls are great for chatting through complex ideas and can help eliminate some of the miscommunication that can run rampant on a remote team if you’re not meeting regularly.

This is really helpful for larger teams and those that don’t get much direct day-to-day contact with managers. There’s just something about putting a face to the voice. You can have a more natural conversation if you can see the other person and read their body language.

Strong remote teams are based on trust. It takes more time to develop when team members aren’t working together in person, but that doesn’t make it impossible. Video calls can be a big help with this.

Set daily or weekly goals to keep teams accountable and motivated

Another way to motivate teams is by providing regular feedback and accountability through either daily or weekly goals.

For example, one tactic that I use is to post the top 3-5 big things that I completed that past week as well as the top 3-5 things that I’m working on next week. When everyone does this, it’s a good way to not just motivate the team, but to instill accountability, collaboration and celebrate individual wins.

meet in person

Whether because of a pandemic or the fact that you have team members all over the world, meeting in person isn’t always feasible. But when it is possible and safe to do so, host a team or company-wide retreat.

Remote work has many advantages, but a few days of meeting in person can build trust. And, the team can also collaborate to tackle and solve hard problems together.

During any in-person get-together, make the most of this by addressing:

  • Vision and mission
  • Company strategy
  • High-level sales, marketing, and product strategy

Team meetups, or retreats, are an excellent opportunity to step away from the pressures of daily work and spend time as a team thinking about the big picture.

For example, when I first started working remotely five years ago, I actually looked forward to our team meetups. There is something special about meeting team members who you work with everyday online in-person for the first time. (Plus, in my case, the fact one meetup each year was in Thailand didn’t hurt.)

This sentiment is common for most remote workers. When you only chat with your team in-person a couple of times a year, it is special and fun. That’s not the case when you have to see everyone day in and day out in the office.

Note: It’s possible to go overboard with meetups and retreats. Multiple meetups throughout the year may not be necessary and it can get expensive if you’re flying out a large team for a retreat. Figure out what makes sense financially and productively for your team to meet in person. Most teams who host retreats do it 1-2 times per year.

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Remember that each company and each team is different. No matter the industry or work style, bringing in people that are a good fit for your business and encouraging open, honest communication will go a long way in creating a thriving remote team.

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