2020 has brought with it many unforeseen challenges that can be reframed as opportunities. As almost all companies have become virtual, teams have had to quickly reimagine their day-to-day working lives, forcing a learning curve on the technology and communication front. While at first, the priority for many companies was to keep operations going smoothly while integrating with technology, focus has now largely shifted to how to return to the same sense of encouraged creativity and comradery that teams had while working in person.  

Working remotely still presents enormous opportunities for community and culture. In an article from Harvard Business School, Joan de Souza noted that “working remotely and workflow is better in some departments as they do not have to deal with the somewhat unhealthy political environment at work. In other departments like sales and admin … running to the coffee room or the watering hole after work stimulates them.”

No matter the circumstances, a healthy and thriving company culture makes employees happier and more productive. So, the question on HOW to support this culture while remote is paramount.

Water Cooler Talk…  Done Virtually (with bonuses)

It indeed is possible to implement ‘water cooler talk’ within remote work. TLM Partners, a Leading Game & Entertainment Developer based in the Cloud, has always been 100% remote, long before the pandemic. Their Head of People, Evelyn Rivera, noted that “through embracing and encouraging team members to bond over shared interests and team building activities, we begin to build camaraderie and opportunities for ‘water cooler moments’. Beyond the work related tools, we have dedicated channels and groups for sharing fun photos, articles, and discussions around non-work related topics.”

It could be argued that having this dedicated channel could encourage even more personal or non-work related talk than would be done in an office setting, where there may be pressure to keep conversations professional. 

Evelyn takes it beyond the messaging channels, too. “We also like to get together for “coffee chats” and ‘happy hour’. This becomes a time to relax and share some laughs around the proverbial ‘water cooler’,” she noted.

In fact, they’ve taken being purely remote in stride, and focused more on team culture than most in-person companies.  “In the past, we have held community events where our team members get together to play games and socialize. Sometimes its current games we are working on, and other times, it is games that are currently popular and easy to play. Friday afternoon for example, we had a gaming session where those interested joined and played Among us,” Evelyn added. “We also have future community events in the works, such as: cooking demonstrations, fitness classes, language lessons, and professional development seminars.”

Supporting Comradery

Despite best efforts, boosting team culture through non work related get-togethers doesn’t always translate to comradery. In a work setting, this comradery could be defined as a sense of respect and admiration amongst all the individuals involved in a company. To ensure this is always blossoming, Evelyn shared that within TLM, “there are various one on one check-ins at every level of our organization. Our leads are there to engage their team members and really take the time to get to know them, understand how they are doing, how this pandemic is impacting them, and offer support.” 

She also noted that the CEO has an open-door policy and will check in on everyone else. These culture choices closely resemble those of Google, which is celebrated for happy and productive employees. LevelingUp noted of Google, “With an employee count of 47,756 it hardly qualifies as a mom and pop shop, and yet people who work there describe it as having a small-company feel where no one hesitates to “spike a volleyball across the net at a corporate officer.” 

Every business is composed of people, and human connections amongst them is what supports vulnerability, creativity, and more efficient work practices. So, the more your business can offer opportunities for employees to get to know one another and forge friendships over and above working relationships, the more likely they are to be happy and bring greater contributions to the table.

To get started, introduce a new Slack channel or an email thread solely devoted to personal life matters, humor, book recommendations, or otherwise. And, get creative about fun Happy Hours that can be done virtually. Throw in a game or a ‘contest,’ and remember that the intention is to have fun! Remember that every company is figuring this out, and those that prioritize culture are those that will win.