1. What is a digital water cooler?
Remember those times at the office when you ran into two or more colleagues around a literal water cooler? The digital water cooler (another name for a virtual water cooler) is the online version of this interaction. The term water cooler moments originate from impromptu gatherings. What makes these moments special is that they’re unplanned.
Recreating digital water cooler talk online is beneficial because it;
- Gives you a mini-break from your work.
- Encourages staff to converse, no matter how well they know each other.
- Gives you have the opportunity to try out new virtual water cooler ideas for fun activities and games.
- Offers the remote office to convene in masses rather than be limited to just a few people. You can add any number of participants to the call.
Virtual water cooler ideas are great for any occasion, including
- Onboarding a new hire remotely.
- Enabling coworkers to get reacquainted with one another
- Breaking the ice between departmental staff.
- Creating a discussion room to plan other secret parties, such as a virtual farewell, remote work anniversaries, birthdays or baby showers!
- Coming up with new virtual water cooler ideas or concepts spontaneously
2. Engaging Water Cooler Questions for Work
Staying connected with colleagues in a virtual workspace can sometimes feel challenging, but a great way to spark genuine conversation and foster team bonding is by posing water cooler questions. These are light-hearted, non-work-related queries that can act as conversation starters during breaks or at the beginning of team meetings. Here are some engaging water cooler questions to integrate into your remote work routine -
- What's a new hobby you've picked up recently?
- If you could take a vacation anywhere right now, where would you go?
- How do you usually start your workday?
- Have you tried any new recipes lately?
- Which book are you currently reading, and would you recommend it?
- Have you picked up any new hobbies during the remote work phase?
- What's the most unusual thing within arm's reach of your workspace right now?
3. The Types of Virtual Water Coolers in Remote Offices
There are different kind of remote water coolers based on the agenda,
3.1. Casual water cooler
These are general water cooler chat channels that encourage conversations on casual topics. It can be anything, from what someone had last night for dinner to what new movie they’re thinking of watching over the weekend.
3.2. Work water cooler
It's not what you think! Work water cooler features bonding activities. The team takes each other through a virtual tour of their home office, or shares pictures and video clips of their work desk and personal effects. The pictures can be posted up on a common channel and be your theme when conducting virtual water cooler games!
3.3. Remote hub water cooler
This hub is to share personal experiences and thoughts on working from home. The experienced remote workers can relate to the feelings of loneliness that newly remote staff feel. They can pass tips that they found helpful and forge a stronger relationship with their colleagues and managers.
3.4. Team building and bonding
Team water coolers essentially are conducted via Microsoft Teams, which feature a lot of add ons such as Breakthru (for collective microbreaks), e-learning and more! There are tons of cool and fun apps that can be added to the channel for everyone to join in on. All you need to do is set up a recurring meeting on the calendar so that everyone can make it.
3.5. Orientation water cooler
This thread brings new hires across the business onto a single channel so that they can interact with each other. They can also interact with existing employees assigned to mentor them and be guided around the company’s work policies, culture reporting lines and timings.
4. Fun Virtual water cooler Ideas 2023
4.1. Parisian cafe
I came across this really cool (and free) virtual tour of France’s capital on Youvisit. The group can login to the site as one and pretend to be a tourist group going sightseeing around the Louvre, Notre Dame Chapel and the iconic Eiffel Tower. There’s a voiceover explaining the history of each spot along with places to stay and where next to go. This tour is sure to get your teams talking!
4.2. Language Club
Learning a new language is always handy. It can teach colleagues enough phrases to get by when they’re in a country that speaks that language and help them bond better with each other. Ask around by a show of emojis if anyone would be interested to learn a language and participate in a lesson exchange where they teach each other a secondary language they’re fluent in. Or, they can opt to do a group session after downloading language tutoring apps like Duolingo or Babbel.
They can pick one and take lessons daily, convening around the digital water cooler to discuss their individual progress.
Every organization has bookworms who enjoy reading different genres-romance, history, suspenseful thrillers or nonfiction. Turn your online water cooler into a book club or book house where everyone discusses page turners they’d recommend their colleagues to pick up.
4.4. A-Lister Date
Have you ever wondered which Hollywood celebrity would be your date to the red carpet premiere? This is one of the best virtual water cooler ideas to keep the conversation going! Coworkers can talk about who they’d pick and why, and what they’d wear to the event. This needn’t be limited to only Hollywood. You can talk about the A-lister you’d invite to a birthday or to shadow at the workplace if they dropped by for a day.
4.5. No-Fire Recipes
This is one of the best virtual water cooler ideas for large groups. Ask everyone to make a dish that doesn’t need to be cooked over a gas burner or stove.. The no-fire dish can be anything, from an appetizer to desserts. More points to you if it's a unique take on an existing dish or a completely original recipe!
4.6. Guess the job
This guessing game will require everyone to turn their camera on. Draw up a list of professions and have people go in turns miming the job by hands, props or facial expression. Or, you can split the group into two teams and appoint one person from each team to mime the job to their teammates.
For example, place one end of your wired earphones to an object like a book to make it look like a stethoscope. The correct guess would be the doctor, in this case. Whichever team, or person who gets it right in seconds gets double the points to their final score!
4.7. Watercooler trivia
Watercooler trivia comprises a set of icebreaker prompts or quizzes that test your knowledge on general affairs. Here’s a template of fun questions everyone can ask each other-
- What is your favorite board game?
- What’s inside your fridge?
- Name one exotic destination you’d travel to on your next time off.
- Share a joke or bizarre fact
- What’s the worst dish you ate out of politeness?
- What is the funniest thing you’ve caught your pet doing on camera?
- Have you ever experienced Deja Vu?
- What’s the scariest film you were brave enough to watch alone?
- What are three things you cannot live without?
If your office uses Microsoft Teams, you can add the Water Cooler Trivia extension and have your own virtual trivia night! It’ll generate one trivia contest per week, with 10 free-response questions. The contestants will get notifications via DM or channels, and the result will be sent across Teams.
4.8. Just a Darn fun Event
Teambuilding offers Just A Darn Fun Event, a 60-minute whirlwind of virtual happy hour, photo booth, trivia, bingo and Never Have I Ever rolled into one! The best part is the element of surprise because you’ll never know what you’re getting.
The host will invite you to join a Zoom link. You can also request to have the event on any other video conferencing platform of your preference, such as Teams or Cisco WebEx. Just a Darn fun will keep your teams engaged and entertained with it's semi-formal approach to hanging out!
4.9. My Biggest work disrupter is..
This is one of the greatest virtual water cooler ideas ever to get people to share their experiences as remote or virtual employees. Let’s face it, everyone knows the distractions don’t go away just because you’re not in an office; it's just a different set of disrupters.
Get everyone to elaborate on what pulls their focus from work. Working parents or caregivers, in particular, would have a few amusing (and not-so-amusing) stories to share about how they balance work and personal responsibilities.
4.10. Personality Tests
Wouldn’t you like to find out if your teammate is an introvert, extrovert or a bit of both? The Myers Briggs personality test asks you a series of questions and then generates descriptive feedback on your personality type. Everyone can compare their results to find out which coworkers have exact results or similar traits.
16personalities also offers a question-based long-scroll format that ranks the answer from “Strongly Agree” to “Strongly Disagree”.
It can take up to an hour to complete the test, so be sure to hold the digital water cooler for a time towards the end of the day or week. They have a range of other insightful personality tests that you can explore too.
4.11. Dungeons and Dragons
Dungeons and Dragons is a multiplayer video game for large crowds. The story begins with the main character (played by you or a team member) getting shipwrecked on the shores of a fictional island. The objective is to free Korthos and its people from the hold the Sahuagin rule has over them. There’s also a White dragon who is being controlled by a Mindflayer Creature through an ancient Artifact.
This is one of the best virtual water cooler ideas to test how teams work together on strategy. The visual and sound effects are realistic, making the game’s roleplaying lively!
4.12. Virtual Bingo
You cannot go wrong with a hand drawn or virtual Bingo chart! You can play it online by selecting the number of cards and inviting your coworkers to take part in the fun. The members will cross off the numbers they heard on their bingo cards. Reward the players to get a complete row (or several) right, depending on the game’s complexity.
5.1. How do you make a virtual watercooler on a team?
Create a channel on any virtual meeting platform you use. You can also do the same on Slack or an alternative. Once that’s done, add members to the channel and give it a fun name. Encourage emojis, upvotes, gifs and memes to add humor to the conversation!
5.2. What are some virtual water cooler questions?
A few water-cooler questions include -
- What's the last show you binge-watched?
- Do you have any weekend plans or stay-at-home activities?
- What's your go-to work-from-home snack?
5.3. How can you create virtual water cooler channels on Microsoft Teams?
On Microsoft Teams, there’s an extension that posts quizzes and results on a weekly basis. But you can also create a group by navigating to the bottom left panel that says “Create or Join a Team”. You’ll get options to create a basic team (from scratch),or from templates that contain apps specific to the type of template. You can then add members once your channel is ready!
5.4. How Do You Set up a Virtual Water cooler?
1. Lock down on a platform
Whether you’re a Teams or Zoom user, finalize a platform for townhall virtual water cooler breaks. This way everyone knows where to expect the call from and can log in beforehand to avoid holding the meeting up. They can also make sure they have a steady internet connection and a backup in case of a power cut or tech glitches.
2. Invite and add colleagues to the channel
Decide what the virtual water cooler is for, and invite participants accordingly. This keeps the crowd to the size you want it to be and ensures no one who is busy is pulled into irrelevant meetings. Rotate the crowd so that no one misses out on the experience to reconnect.
3. Create a list of water cooler discussion topics
Pre-empt awkward silences with a decided list of water cooler discussion topics. You can invite suggestions beforehand, or make them up yourself and pass it around before the break commences. Having something to talk about helps people come out of their shells and share their thoughts freely.
4. Set a time limit
The time limit depends on the number of participants and the purpose of the discussion. For large groups, it would be prudent to keep the session between 30 minutes to an hour. Smaller groups can take shorter and more breaks on the same day so that it doesn’t interfere with their regular work.
5. Initiate team games and group activities
Include a few icebreaker activities and team building virtual water cooler games that split everyone into competing teams. You can record the session and share the video on the channel to look back on later.