“Hey, did you see that Will Smith and Chris Rock meme?”
The latest watercooler du jour! The water cooler conversation existed even before it got its name. These are the impromptu conversations that employees are believed to be having like informational, topical or casual. Back in the pre-internet era, people at the workplace would have casual conversations mostly gathered near water coolers.
Why would the conversations not take place during their afternoon walks, chai or coffee breaks or simply roll their chairs over to their colleague to discuss yet another adventure of Swami in Malgudi Days?
Because nowadays, they happen to be sharing a meme on the text chains or a playlist from the show they watched over the weekend. Then how exactly did this colloquial term come into existence?
One of the references could be traced back to the time when water on the ship was stored in casks before their sea voyages. This cask had a scuttled butt - an outlet for water to be consumed and was placed on deck for everyone. The sailors engaged in chatter while drinking water which came to be known as scuttlebutt aka gossip or rumour. This is how the water cooler conversations got a bad reputation. Some managers discourage intervals or limit employees' break time.
They believe that it adds to the rumours and office politics. While rumours might be a part of some conversations but the water cooler chat has far-reaching benefits.
You need to remind yourself that even as neanderthals, we depended on interactions between different communities. So, cubicles definitely need to have more supportive environments than a cave. While the slang remains the same, we have come a long way from water coolers to bean bags. And the conversations that take place around them are even more evolved from intensely discussing fictional telenovelas to having formal brainstorming sessions in a casual setting.
The conversations that stimulate social behaviour amongst employees at a workplace give rise to the following benefits:
1) Sharing of Knowledge
Sometimes, these casual talks over a coffee break can turn into impromptu brainstorming sessions. The employees involved share their opinion and knowledge about the topic or an equally important adjacent topic. Now, this transforms the water cooler chats into an opportunity to share wisdom. Even in hybrid or remote model workplaces, such conversations are needed to break the monotony and virtual boredom. With a solution like Bhyve, a platform specially built to share knowledge amongst employees of an organisation. Now, remote workers can have a chat with colleagues during the morning or lunchtime experiencing a virtual water cooler conversation.
2) Casual conversation with Managers
There is sometimes a communication iceberg between the managers and subordinates. Breaking into, "Did you happen to catch the match last night?" could be a great way to melt that ice. Such frequent and casual nature conversations help people to look at each other from a different lens than the one at work.
3) So, what kind of culture is it anyway?
Just like Rome, culture is not built in a day. Well, in some cases, Rome would be much easier between the two. There are many factors that help you nurture a great culture but sometimes it is less than a rigid and more casual workplace. Every day organisations are joining towards establishing a less formal environment. About a few years ago, Richard Branson, founder of Virgin made it to the cover of Vogue for cutting off his tie with the scissors in his pocket symbolising the end of formal attire. The casual conversations have an underlying aim to bring such cultures to the workplace.
4) Reduces Social Anxiety
Every employee comes with their own capabilities. Some might be the life of the party while others would simply be an introvert. In such instances, having a casual chat with any colleague might open them up. If a discussion about favourite K-pop stars can be fuel enough for employees who isolate themselves then they can open up and start having more such conversations eventually. As social anxiety is not a one-time phenomenon, it might take some time but such conversations can definitely be the catalyst.
5) Attracts and Retains Talent
There is no greater way to propagate your work culture on LinkedIn than an actual employee advocating for the same. Any organisation that focuses on building an employee-first culture will hardly face a problem retaining them. The ones working for your company might act as influential factors that can also attract new talent. But for this, people need to feel comfortable where they work. Water cooler talk is a can build that support and workplace camaraderie to retain the employees.
6) Collaboration and Creativity's Den
Water cooler conversations have the power to give rise to a culture where there is a flow of communication between employees from every vertical. This was recognised before the importance of work culture entered our discussions. Apple founder, Steve Jobs in his biography, mentioned his thought behind building The Atrium, a dedicated space designed in Pixar's headquarters when he was the CEO back in 1999. He fleshed out his idea for the campus, which was to house up to 1000 employees including reception, employee mailboxes, cafe, foosball, fitness centre, two 40-seat viewing rooms, and a large theatre and also situated where the campus’ only restrooms. The headquarters was supposed to be a site that "promoted encounters and unplanned collaborations." Jobs added, "If a building doesn’t encourage [collaboration], you’ll lose a lot of innovation and the magic that’s sparked by serendipity. So we designed the building to make people get out of their offices and mingle in the central atrium with people they might not otherwise see.”
Since the importance of casual chats between employees can also be attributed to sharing wisdom amongst them, organisations can intuitively make efforts to host activities around the same. This will help the ones who naturally isolate themselves to break out of their shells.
And if your company has adopted a hybrid remote structure, Bhyve can help you set up your virtual water cooler and the conversations around them. Visit bhyve.io to know more.