Modern Water Cooler Talk: Tips and Strategies

Chris Carnduff
June 7, 2024

In a 2015 TED Talk, five-time CEO Margaret Heffernan laid out her strategy for developing high-capacity teams. Rather than focusing on the best and brightest, Heffernan encouraged business leaders to spend their time cultivating “social cohesion — built every coffee break, every time one team member asks another for help.”

Heffernan goes on to explain that connection leads to greater productivity, a freer flow of ideas, and higher morale. To put it simply, when a team’s or organization’s members spend more time together, everyone wins. 

CoffeePals makes it easier than ever to bring your employees together in a safe, fun way. And since it integrates directly into Microsoft Teams, you can enjoy the many benefits of water cooler talk in an intuitive, digital format.

Looking to have virtual water cooler conversations? In this brief article, we’ll take a look at the meaning of water cooler talk, review its benefits for your business, and go over some basic water cooler talk topics and etiquette. By the end, you should be more than prepared to empower your employees with connectivity and relationship.

What Does Water Cooler Talk Mean?

For generations, one of the best places for this social cohesion to take place was around the water cooler. Employees would gather there, not only for a brief break from work or to quench their thirst, but to chat, laugh, and spend a few minutes with their coworkers.

The water cooler (or coffee pot) became a hub for connection. It was the kind of place where you could talk about problems you were trying to solve. Or you could share ideas about what could make the workday better. Or you could simply decompress and get to know one another. In other words, water cooler topics could range from the personal to the professional and everything in between.

This kind of office water cooler talk is informal and enjoyable. It makes all the other work more bearable and is a reminder that the work you’re doing is part of something much bigger.

But chatting around the water cooler isn’t just good for your staff. It’s good for your organization as a whole. And with CoffeePals, you can bring that age-old practice into the digital world - without minimizing your Microsoft Teams window.

How Can Water Cooler Talk Strengthen Your Team?

By giving your employees a place to get to know one another and informally collaborate, your business will enjoy a host of benefits. Here are a handful worth considering:

1. Strengthen Company Culture

While company culture has always been a major factor in a business’s success, its importance is only increasing. Younger workers prioritize a healthy company culture that shares their values. In fact, a recent study showed that Millennials prioritize “culture fit” above everything else when it comes to work.

Focusing on your company culture will pay off in dividends, increasing morale and turning employees into genuine team members. So, how can you strengthen your company’s culture? Cultures are caught, not taught. And they’re most effectively caught through simple, informal interactions - like conversations around the water cooler.

So, if you want to strengthen relationships and connections within your company - and your company’s culture in the process - then you need to provide those opportunities to your staff.

2. Boost Productivity

To a casual observer, it may seem like the chattier a group is, the less productive they are. But the reality is the exact opposite. When people have a chance to take a break and enjoy a little human interaction, they’re more likely to unleash their full potential. 

Think of it like this. How many times have you been facing a problem that you can’t get around. So, you take a walk and get in a simple, mundane conversation with someone. Then, when you return to your desk, the answer to your problem comes out as if it had been hiding in the back of your mind all along.

Water cooler discussions give your employees the chance to destress and rest their minds. So when they return to their tasks, they feel refreshed and ready to face their challenges head-on.

3. Increase Creativity & Collaboration

Working together requires trust and mutual respect. Unfortunately, those things don’t happen by accident. They’re cultivated and grow slowly through conversation, words of encouragement, and simply spending time together.

Once a team is comfortable being with one another, they’ll be much more likely to collaborate openly and effectively. They’ll feel more free to offer suggestions, take constructive criticism, and share ideas.

This is the power of water cooler conversations.

4. Help with Employee Retention

In recent years, holding on to great employees has become a major challenge. While getting a new job is often exciting and a time of hope, disappointment can quickly set in - especially if the team member in question feels alone.

That’s where water cooler talk can help. As employees make deep connections with their coworkers, they’re more likely to identify with them. They’ll feel as though they’re more than mere coworkers - they’re teammates. And those relationships will go a long way toward keeping them with you through good times and bad.

CoffeePals gives you the ability to enjoy all of these benefits without forcing another app on you or requiring your staff to be in the office to take part. It’s an easy way to boost productivity, help with employee retention, and more.

employee resource group types

Best Practices for Cultivating Water Cooler Talk (without the Water Cooler)

Before the era of remote work, creating space for conversations around the water cooler was as simple as buying a water cooler and setting it up in the office. Today, it’s not quite that easy. If you want to cultivate an environment where your remote staff can build relationships with one another, you’ll need to be more intentional.

So, what can you do to cultivate water cooler talk?

1. Connect Team Members Over Coffee

There’s something about coffee that seems to loosen up the tongue and make people feel comfortable. That’s why CoffeePals is such a great tool to use for giving your staff the chance to engage in a little water cooler talk. 

Whether you want to create an onboarding process that brings veteran and newer staff together, cultivate relationships between individual team members via our automated pairing feature, or want to get your entire team together for some informal chit-chat, CoffeePals can help you connect your team members.

2. Create a Dedicated ‘Water Cooler’ Channel on Your Collaboration Tool

If you’ve got remote workers, you likely take advantage of a messaging and collaboration tool like Microsoft Teams. One of the easiest ways to create water cooler moments is to establish a dedicated channel that’s focused exclusively on informal discussion. Then, let your staff use that to talk about their favorite television shows, latest hobbies, or whatever else they want to share. It’s a quick, easy way to create space for water cooler conversation.

3. Leave Virtual Rooms Open Before & After Meetings

Water cooler talk doesn’t just happen around the water cooler. Some of the best conversations can take place before and after meetings, as people are filtering in and out. So, why not leave your Zoom room open for ten to fifteen minutes before and after any virtual meetings. This will give people a chance to have the kind of informal, happenstance conversations they might enjoy in the office.

4. Plan a Virtual Lunch

Virtual lunches can be a great way to give your staff a chance to connect and enjoy some informal chit-chat. Whether you plan a virtual lunch that’s dedicated to educating about an important topic or one that’s geared toward team building, these kinds of events are great at getting people out of their shells and helping them connect. And thanks to food delivery services like GrubHub and DoorDash, you can easily deliver lunch to everyone who’s invited, ensuring it feels like a real luncheon as much as possible.

Water Cooler Talk Topics to Spark Conversation

While conversation is essential for connecting with others, not all water cooler talk topics have been created equal. In fact, there are some topics that should probably be avoided at all cost (we’ll note those areas in the section on water cooler etiquette below).

CoffeePals makes it easy to create conversation by allowing you to match employees within your organization and even offer them a topic of discussion. Here are a few broad topics you may want to consider throwing their way:

1. Personal Interests

Most relationships - whether professional or personal - are built on something both people have in common. This is why discussing personal interests can be a great way to build connections and enjoy all the benefits mentioned above.

So, why not ask questions like…

  • What is one hobby that you can’t live without?
  • What’s your favorite vacation destination?
  • Where is your favorite place to have dinner? Why?
  • What’s something that you’re passionate about?

2. Entertainment

Discussing the latest television shows and movies is practically synonymous with water cooler talk. Not only are most entertainment options non-controversial, but people are often deeply invested in them. This means they make a great source of informal conversation and can be a great way for people to make instant connections.

So, why not ask questions like…

  • Who’s your favorite band? Have you seen them in concert? What was it like?
  • What’s your favorite movie of all time? What do you like about it?
  • What television show has your attention right now? What’s compelling about it?

3. Current Events (Without The Politics)

While it’s probably a good idea to avoid talking about politics, current events can be a great topic of discussion when handled correctly. For example, employees who live in the same city may want to discuss upcoming events or celebrations. Likewise, there may be city- or state-wide initiatives worth discussing. As long as the topic of conversation doesn’t devolve into a partisan argument, current events can be a great source of conversation.

So, why not ask questions like…

  • What events or celebrations are you looking forward to in your community?
  • What recent news event surprised or shocked you? Why?

4. Jokes, Random Facts & More

Laughter isn’t just the best medicine. It’s also one of the most effective ways to grease our social interactions. There’s something about laughing together that draws us together, helps us identify with one another, and strengthens relationships.

So, why not ask questions like…

  • What’s your favorite dad joke?
  • What’s your favorite book?
  • What random fact have you always been fascinated by?
  • When was the hardest you’ve ever laughed?

5. Work

You may be wary of trying to start conversations between your employees about work. There may even be a fear lurking in the back of your mind that you’ll be cultivating an environment for complaining rather than connecting if you ask questions about your employees’ workday. 

And while there’s always a risk that things could go south, asking about work shouldn’t be avoided at all cost. On the contrary, great things can come out of such discussions.

So, why not ask questions like…

  • What’s your biggest challenge at work? Do you have any ideas for how it could be overcome?
  • What’s one change that you’d like to see in our office?
  • How do you think we could collaborate as a team more effectively?

CoffeePals gives you the ability to pair members of your staff together and get them talking about the things that matter to them. By using some of these questions, you’ll make it easier for your employees - whether introverted or extroverted - to begin developing the kinds of relationships your business needs to reach its full potential.

Transforming Workplace Culture with CoffeePals

Hopefully you now realize that water cooler talk is far more than a chance for your employees to avoid work. It’s an essential part of developing strong, effective teams. And it can empower your business in several key ways, including by boosting employee retention, increasing productivity, and more.

And while you can rely on the traditional methods of bringing people together (literal water coolers or coffee rooms), today’s increasingly digital office world demands another approach. That’s why CoffeePals exists. We’re dedicated to helping your employees connect and build relationships in an intuitive, organic environment - all from within Microsoft Teams.

So, why not give it a try? Testing it out won’t cost you a thing. And the impact it could have on your staff and business could be priceless.

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