If you want your team to operate like a well-oiled machine, a good rapport among team members is essential. Spontaneous opportunities to bond, like office water cooler chats, promote teamwork, boost morale, and enhance productivity.
This is easy when your employees are in the same office; team bonding can occur naturally.
However, if you have remote employees, team-building activities require a little more effort and planning. That’s why your team needs virtual water coolers.
In this article, we’ll explain what a virtual water cooler is and how it can benefit your business. We’ll also highlight 10 creative virtual water cooler ideas and outline three simple steps for setting one up.
This article contains:
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- What is a Virtual Water Cooler?
- 10 Creative Virtual Water Cooler Ideas
- 3 Simple Steps to Set Up a Virtual Water Cooler
Let’s get started.
What is a virtual water cooler?
Office water cooler interactions are informal, non-work-related conversations between employees in a typical office environment.
These interactions occur spontaneously around the water cooler, breakroom, or coffee machine in a traditional workspace like a physical office. But as more companies adopt a remote or hybrid work model due to the pandemic, there are fewer opportunities for employees to interact casually.
The lack of social interaction and casual water cooler conversation between co-workers in the digital workplace can negatively impact teamwork and collaboration.
That’s why many companies are introducing planned, virtual activities to get teams to interact informally.
So how can your team benefit from virtual water cooler activities?
Here are two key benefits of virtual water coolers:
- Promotes a Sense of Belonging: Remote or virtual work can make employees feel isolated. Virtual water coolers can help create open communication between team members, encourage camaraderie, and make each remote employee feel like they’re part of the team.
- Improves Employee Engagement: Virtual water coolers help employees feel more involved in the company. Informal conversations among colleagues can help foster new ideas that may benefit the company. It also helps strengthen your company culture when off-site team-building activities probably aren’t feasible.
Now that we know how it can benefit your company let’s explore 10 water cooler activities that your team will love.
10 creative virtual water cooler ideas
Here are some out-of-the-box ideas to help kickstart your virtual water cooler efforts:
1. Online trivia games and quizzes
Trivia games and quizzes give remote workers a chance to flex their general knowledge muscles — even if they aren’t too familiar with each other.
Moreover, teammates can interact without sharing information about their personal lives. If you want to keep things relevant, you can make the quizzes specific to your industry or department.
How to do it
Trivia games and quizzes are easy to facilitate.
All you need to do is sign up for an app like Water Cooler Trivia or Doozy. Some of these also offer integrations with communication channels like Slack for ease of use.
Alternatively, you could post questions to a group thread or ask them during a video call.
Here are some great activities you can try out with your team:
- Virtual Jeoparty Social – A Jeopardy-style activity with 3-4 rounds of Jeopardy trivia and social activities between each round
- Virtual Trivia Time Machine – Take a trip through time as teams compete to solve pop-culture trivia over the last 5 decades
- Virtual Happy Hour Trivia – Step into Hamish McDuff’s virtual pub and compete in his legendary happy hour trivia competition.
2. Question games
If you want your team to get to know each other on a more personal level, question games are a great way to break the ice.
There are several fun question games you can play, like:
- This or That?
- Would you Rather?
- Truth or Dare?
- Never Have I Ever
How to do it
You can use a video meeting app like Zoom or Google Meet. Each team member holds up a hand and takes a turn sharing a question or statement.
For example, in “Never have I ever…”, if someone on the team has done the activity mentioned, they put down their finger. The last one with fingers up is the winner.
3. Lunch and coffee breaks
Food brings people together — whether it’s meeting at the vending machine, sharing stories over sandwiches, or celebrating a colleague’s birthday with cake.
So if team members are in the same or similar time zones, why not organize virtual lunch dates or breaks?
This way, people can still enjoy some downtime with their colleagues each day, catch up and engage in water cooler talk.
How to do it
Take a poll and see what times your team members take their lunch breaks, coffee breaks, etc. Then, schedule a break time or two, send out a meeting link and enjoy a cup of coffee or meal together via a video call.
Employers could even have snacks and treats delivered now and then for employees to enjoy during these casual interactions.
4. Shared interest clubs
It’s common for people with similar interests to gravitate towards each other for a quick water cooler chat or more organized social gatherings.
For example, employees may discover common interests like books they’ve read, movies they’ve watched, or new restaurants they’ve tried.
With just a little more planning, you could arrange a regular virtual water cooler chat for your remote workforce based on these shared common interests.
How to do it
You can easily start a virtual club around any interest and connect virtually using a dedicated Slack channel, Zoom, or other virtual communication channels.
You could send out a questionnaire to all your employees to gain a little knowledge of their interests. Then you can organize clubs based on common interests.
For example, colleagues that enjoy reading could get together weekly or monthly for a book club, colleagues that enjoy watching movies and series could join a Netflix club, etc.
5. Escape rooms
Escape rooms are not only fun but also a great way to bond with your team members.
The stress to “escape” can also provide insights into how people work with a team and act under pressure against deadlines.
How to do it
Find a company that hosts Escape Room activities.
Try Ouback Team Building. They have a Virtual Escape Room: Jewel Heist activity that will surely be fun for the team.
During these escape room events, you’ll have a host assigned to conduct the event. Your team will have to answer questions or solve puzzles and riddles on a virtual whiteboard in time to escape from the “room.”
6. Online Cluedo
Another popular online activity is virtual Cluedo.
If you’re a fan of the board game, you’ll love the virtual murder mystery that gives your team the chance to unleash their inner Sherlock.
In the game, players wander around a massive mansion, hunting for clues to solve a murder.
How to do it
You can download Cluedo or other murder mystery games from the iStore or Google Playstore.
Alternatively, you could sign up to a website like Outbackteambuilding.com and play their Virtual Clue Murder Mystery.
7. Icebreaker sessions
Another way of encouraging casual virtual water cooler conversation among colleagues is to ask conversation starter questions. These can be company-wide or department-specific, spontaneous, or planned.
For example, you could start your weekly team meeting with a few icebreaker questions.
This will help create a relaxed atmosphere conducive to brainstorming. It also helps build trust among team members and helps prepare employees for collaborative work.
How to do it
Before, after, or during work-related meetings, you could ask non-work-related questions like:
- What was your last TV show binge?
- What book do you recommend reading?
- What are you most looking forward to this week?
- Where are you going to or would you like to travel next?
- What’s currently happening in your city?
Alternatively, you could use an app like Donut for Slack to help your virtual teams interact randomly.
8. Wine tasting
Virtual wine tastings are online social events that let participants across multiple remote locations share one virtual experience. These activities can promote small talk among team members and will usually have them giggling by the end of it.
If a looming project or deadline is stressing your team, this activity could be a good way for employees to relax and unwind.
How to do it
You and your team have a few bottles of wine that you all have to taste and describe.
You can start with all the same wines or different ones. If you’re all tasting the same wines, send out a shopping list to your team beforehand.
You could have a list of words you cannot use to describe the wines, for example, oaky, mellow, dry. Your team will have to think on their feet to find clever ways of describing each wine or lose points for saying a taboo word from the list.
Note: Remember to encourage responsible drinking. Never make participation in events involving alcohol compulsory — give employees the choice to participate or not. Additionally, if you have employees with a history of substance abuse, avoid virtual water cooler events that involve alcohol altogether.
9. Virtual happy hour
Similar to virtual wine tasting, virtual happy hours are an enjoyable way to bring some normality to remote working teams.
During these virtual hours, team members can have the same drinks, or each could have the tipple of their choice. You could also have a bartender or mixologists give your team a few virtual cocktail-making lessons.
How to do it
Send out the shopping list beforehand, so team members have everything they need for the event.
Alternatively, if everyone’s having different drinks, simply schedule a convenient time and send out meeting invites to your team. A Friday afternoon after work is usually a great time for these virtual meetups because employees can just relax without worrying about getting back to work.
Or, you can try out this fun Virtual Happy Hour Trivia activity from Outback Team Building.
10. Virtual arts and crafts
Another out-the-box idea for virtual water cooler moments is a virtual arts and crafts event. This is a chance for team members to get their creative juices flowing.
How to do it
You could have your team take a virtual art class together, where a professional artist guides them through a painting, sketch, or some other activity. In the end, each person reveals their masterpieces.
Websites like Eventbrite.com or Onsite.fun host fun arts and crafts classes that your entire team can join in.
Next, let’s discover how to implement a successful virtual water cooler.
3 simple steps to set up a virtual water cooler
Once you’ve chosen the right activity or activities for your team, here’s how you can set up your virtual water cooler session.
Step 1: Choose the right platform
First, you’ll need to decide on the appropriate platform for your chosen activity.
Determine whether your team will need to see each other face-to-face or whether they’ll need to direct message each other. You could also opt for a virtual space that simulates a typical work environment like a virtual reality office.
Here are some options to choose from:
- Virtual meeting platforms
- Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, Skype
- Instant messaging platforms
- Slack, Google Chat, Amazon Chime
- Social media platforms
- Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn
- Virtual reality and virtual offices
- Mozilla Hubs, MeetinVR, Spatial
Step 2: Create rooms and channels for different teams
Next, you’ll need to create rooms and channels and schedule events at a time that’s convenient for your team.
It’s critical to ensure that employees that would work in the same office together can meet at their virtual water cooler. You may also want to schedule events for co-workers from various departments to get to know each other and build a stronger company culture.
Create different channels and rooms for various activities, common interest groups, events, or just general conversation throughout the day.
Step 3: Invite team members
You can then send invites to your team, either over email, Slack, or whichever communication channel you choose.
Virtual water coolers should be open to every staff member, including interns and temporary employees. You could add the sign-in details for your chosen platform as a step in your onboarding process.
You should also allow team members to opt-out of virtual watercooler events if they want.
Every team needs opportunities to meet and engage in casual conversation.
Although these interactions occur spontaneously in a traditional office, they can be quite limited with remote teams. That’s why you should conduct social activities like virtual water coolers.
We have given you some creative ideas to start with. You just need to determine what works best for your team and get started.
Once you do, you’ll find that successful virtual water cooler activities promote better remote team collaboration and boost morale. And in the long run, this can help increase productivity company-wide.
Liam Martin is a co-founder of Time Doctor which is software to improve productivity and help keep track and know what your team is working on, even when working from home.