What do you do when there are no more water cooler moments?

By IPATracey, Friday, 6th November 2020 | 0 comments
Filed under: 2020.

Water cooler moments likely mean different things to different people. We typically ‘bump’ into others at the water cooler, rather than organise to meet them there. We usually have a relaxed, informal conversation or we take a few moments to ‘catch someone up on something’.  Water cooler moments help us remain visible and connected with the team and with others. But we are also doing something else – we’re sharing a moment and we’re taking ‘time out’ or time away from ‘doing’, both of which can reap significant benefits for us and our organisations.

What remote working clearly shows is that people want and need social connection and communications. But a different approach is needed than if you were to walk over to a desk or meet someone accidentally at the water cooler. You have to make more of a conscious decision and be organised to stay connected.

But why is it essential to virtually replace water cooler moments?

Staying connected with your colleagues and team can help improve not only your relationships but also your thinking and problem solving. When you are ‘doing’ and ‘going’ all the time, you have little time to reflect on the impact of what you do. Reflection time allows you to absorb information and this is when real progress – with ideas or learning – can happen. In addition, according to Matthew Syed in Rebel Ideas, networking with others is an opportunity to share ideas, an essential ingredient in being innovative. Networking gives an opportunity to combine ideas to create something new – an improved process, a new product or a fresh perspective.

While each needs to find their own way to replace the water cooler while remote working, here are some points you should consider:

  1. Don’t hide – visibility speaks louder than words!
    Recognise the importance of staying visible and make the effort to connect with people. Your presence can be reassuring. How can you build trust and understanding if you are not seen? Even if you believe there isn’t much to say, say that at least.
  2. Be systematic about communicating
    You must become more explicit and structured with online platforms and tools but you can vary your approaches, as required. Have short bursts of time online, keep groups small – video calls need only be a few minutes – enough time for you to remind people of your presence, to check in to see what issues are arising, to energise them.
  3. Observe and listen
    It is difficult to value moments with others, or for them to feel valued, if your head is elsewhere or spinning with ideas. Focus on others and give the ‘floor’ to them for updates or questions. If you feel the compulsion to talk all the time and ‘control’ the conversation, ask yourself how that benefits you? The relationship? The business issue? You can be ‘productive’ by facilitating conversations.
  4. Create space to pause and reflect
    More reflection time strengthens your leadership. If you stop for a period, you allow ideas and observations to percolate and blend, which gives clarity and insight, time to spot opportunities and make more informed decisions. This helps reduce the use of ‘default’ or ‘knee jerk’ reactions that don’t always produce the outcomes you really need.
  5. See openness and sharing as strengths
    Share what you are working on, your ideas, share a dilemma. You could be surprised by the perspectives you get! Many products or concepts exist today because people shared and combined thoughts, resulting in new possibilities. If you’re reluctant to share, check in with yourself as to what’s holding you back. Shift your focus to the benefits, rather than the challenges of sharing.

Those whose communication is confined to ‘state of the nation’ addresses once a year, or when there’s a crisis will only be associated with such, rather than as the person with energy and passion about people in the organisation. Those who build networks are creating a foundation for cross-organisational sharing, a vital element in enabling cultures to grow and respond to change. Those who enhance their reflective practice not only grow more and improve their impact but they role model a skill vital for individual and organisational leadership.

Leadership is challenging but finding the right balance in connectivity approaches is important. Those few, quick moments at the water cooler can slip by so quickly in your day in the office. But sharing a moment or taking time out for a few minutes in this online environment can significantly, positively impact your thinking and relationships with others and ultimately bring many benefits to both yourself and to your colleagues. It’s time to make the water cooler a virtual reality!

For further information on the above post, please contact Siobhán Bradley, Senior Leadership and Managment Specialist via sbradley@ipa.ie