Virtual Success Series: No More Water Cooler

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One of the ways this extended stay home order is affecting us is the separation of our physical community bond. The number of in-person interactions you had in your daily working life will vary according to an infinite number of variables, and this is *not* a science blog, so we’ll simplify it by saying this: if you worked in a traditional workplace (i.e. not remotely), it was probably a lot. And it plummeted from “a lot” down to zero (with co-workers) instantly when the stay home orders went into effect. Without warning, without preparation time, and not by the will of the vast majority of people. We did not choose to suddenly start working from home all at once—it was done out of necessity for our own health and wellbeing.

All of that to say we no longer have those casual “water cooler moments” that may have once been a significant part of our daily work life. I wonder if we were to track these, how many would there be in a typical day—casual conversations, smiles and encouraging words, congratulations on a recent achievement, office gossip or expressions of concern. How many slaps on the shoulder, handshakes, fist bumps, high fives or even just a pat on the arm?

How do you think those casual interactions contribute to trust and build rapport? Another way to think about it is to look at how that trust and rapport may be missing or breaking down ever-so-slightly now that we can no longer have those interactions. The more us humans spend time in one another’s physical presence, the more we tend to relax around one another. I think it causes us to make fewer assumptions about one another, and more likely to approach each other with questions or to get help on something.

So what now? We’ve been isolated for quite a while, and in many places, there’s still a lot of uncertainty about how, when and if we will begin the return to the workplace. When we do, those interactions we once took for granted and didn’t give much thought to will be front and center on everyone’s mind by necessity.

But before we even get back to work (and whatever this “new normal” will look like), what can you do to foster those connections right now?

It all comes down to acting with intention.

I invite you to a challenge in the coming week:

  1. Pick five of your co-workers
  2. Choose a Zoom call, Google Hangout, or whatever platform you use to see one another on camera.
  3. Invite one person per day to connect with you for 30 minutes on said platform, camera on. Bonus points if you invite them to pour their favorite beverage of choice and make it a virtual “catch up drink”, whether alcoholic or not.
  4. Connect on a human level. Ask how they are doing. No, REALLY how they are doing. What’s new? What are they doing in their non-working time? How is their family? Reading or watching anything worth sharing? What do they miss most about work? What do they miss least?
  5. Leave work off the agenda. Likely you have plenty of chances to connect about work, so let this be a more intentional time to have a “water cooler moment”.

We would love to hear how this goes for you and what value you take from it. Leave us a comment! And stay safe out there.

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