What is a virtual water cooler?

Virtual water cooler

A virtual water cooler is a digital space or platform where remote employees gather informally. These online interactions, typically via chat apps or video calls, foster casual conversations, relationship building, and unplanned collaborations. 

Just as in traditional offices where the water cooler serves as a spot for unplanned meetups, the virtual version maintains team camaraderie and connectedness.

Want fresh stats on employees’ expectations for the workplace? Find ’em in Oyster’s Employee Expectations Report.

Virtual water cooler benefits

The virtual water cooler has become an essential element in today's remote work environment. Here are three core benefits:

  • Fosters community and cohesion: Virtual water cooler spaces help bridge the gap between distributed team members, ensuring physical distance doesn't lead to emotional detachment. These environments encourage spontaneous, non-work-related interactions, which are crucial for team bonding and mental well-being.
  • Sparks innovation: Casual chats in an informal setting often lead to the merging of diverse perspectives, igniting innovative ideas and solutions that might not emerge in formal meetings.
  • Promotes transparency and problem-solving: By providing an avenue for light-hearted conversations, minor issues can be addressed early.

Virtual water cooler ideas

The virtual water cooler is more than just a digital gathering space—it's a place of engagement and camaraderie. Implementing fresh, creative ideas can further enhance its impact, making remote work more dynamic and interconnected. Here are some examples:

  • Casual catch-ups: Set aside specific times during the week when team members can hop onto a video call with no agenda. It's just a space to chat.
  •  Theme days: Designate certain days where everyone shares something with a fun theme. Examples include pet Fridays and hobby Wednesdays.
  • Gaming sessions: Organize online gaming sessions where team members can participate in multiplayer games or trivia quizzes. It's a break from work and a chance to bond over shared interests.
  • Book or movie clubs: Start a club where participants read a book or watch a movie, and then come together for a discussion. It allows deeper conversations and discovering shared interests.

Incorporating these virtual water cooler ideas can elevate the remote work experience, making it more vibrant and engaging, while fostering a sense of unity within the team.

Virtual water cooler conversation topics

Engaging conversations are the lifeblood of a virtual water cooler, ensuring that it remains a vibrant and welcoming space for team members. To keep the dialogue fresh and interesting, it's essential to have a variety of conversation starters. 

Here are some stimulating topics that can spark interactions:

  • Weekend wanderings: Begin the week by discussing weekend activities. It's a great way for teammates to share personal experiences and discover common hobbies or interests.
  • Cultural exchange: With remote teams often spread globally, dive into discussions about local festivals, food, or traditions. This is a fantastic way for team members to educate others about their cultures and backgrounds.
  • Bucket list dreams: Talk about places that team members want to visit or activities they want to do.

With these topics at hand, the virtual water cooler becomes a place for stories, shared experiences, and insightful exchanges.

How to choose virtual water cooler software

Selecting the right virtual water cooler software is crucial to ensure efficient interaction and foster a sense of unity. Here's a guide to making an informed choice:

  • Understand needs: Before diving into options, outline specific requirements. Understand what types of virtual cooler conversations will occur. Slack is perfect for text- and image-based group chats, and it supports small breakout calls. Zoom is now a classic choice for video gatherings and also supports breakout calls. Microsoft Yammer creates a private social network that users can participate in at their own pace.
  • User experience: Opt for software that boasts an intuitive interface. The easier it is for team members to navigate and use, the more likely they are to engage actively. 
  • Scalability: As a team grows, it’s ideal to have software that can effortlessly accommodate more users. Platforms that allow for breakout groups are ideal for larger teams that want to encourage employees to get to know one another well. 
  • Features: There are various features to consider, such as those associated with security, cross-platform access, and integration capabilities. Many social platforms now include integrations with productivity and communication tools companies already use, so there should be few—if any—worries about compatibility.

Cost and support: Factor in budget and prioritize platforms with robust customer support. If there are free and premium tiers, consider which features are most important for the software to be considered useful and a good value.

About Oyster

Oyster is a global employment platform designed to enable visionary HR leaders to find, hire, pay, manage, develop, and take care of a thriving distributed workforce. Oyster lets growing companies give valued international team members the experience they deserve, without the usual headaches and expense.

Oyster enables hiring anywhere in the world—with reliable, compliant payroll, and great local benefits and perks.