How to do Virtual Water Coolers in 2021

Home » Resources » Virtual Water CoolerUpdated: April 28, 2021

You found our guide to creating a virtual water cooler.

Virtual water coolers are online spaces where remote colleagues can gather for casual conversation. For example, sharing weekend plans or talking about television shows. The purpose of these online rooms is to boost camaraderie among remote teams.

Virtual water coolers are examples of remote team building activities and online team social events.

This article includes:

  • virtual water cooler conversation topics
  • online water cooler platforms
  • how to set up a virtual water cooler
  • remote water cooler games
  • virtual water cooler activities

Here we go!

Online water cooler platforms

Here is a list of the best software for virtual water coolers.

1. Slack

Slack is one of the best software tools for virtual water coolers. You can designate a channel for casual conversation, and invite all team members to join. For example, TeamBuilding has a #random channel for non-work banter. Other possible channel names include #employee-lounge, #water-cooler, #super-secret-lair or #slacking.

The name and the structure of the water cooler space is unimportant, as long as coworkers have a space to talk about non-job topics.

You could even make various channels for different interests and hobbies, like a writer’s room, gamer’s lounge, pet corner, and working parents’ hangout.

This setup makes it easy for teammates to switch between work and non-work conversations, and socialize as schedules allow.

You can extend the platform’s functionality with Slack apps, and can also  play games on Slack.

2. Team chat

Email is a communication platform that every virtual office uses, and almost all email platforms include a chat feature. You can create a group chat specifically for office banter, or let coworkers use the main chat for both work and non-work conversation.

The benefit of this approach is that workhorses are more likely to glance at the chat from time to time, since the window is inside the inbox.

3. Virtual meeting software

Some folks prefer face to face conversation over instant messaging. Most virtual meeting software is built for set meetings, not all-the-time streaming. Creating an always-on virtual meeting room is a challenge. Not to mention, teammates will probably not linger in the room if there are no other participants inside upon entering.

A better option is to hold a casual catch-up call on a recurring day and time. You could schedule a call every day, or once a week. Simply send a calendar invite or post the meeting link in a group chat or message thread. Then, whichever teammates feel like joining can meet for face-to-face time and socialize.

For platform options, check out this guide to virtual meeting software.

4. Social media groups

Creating a remote team hangout on social media is an unconventional yet effective way to foster connection among virtual teams. Simply create a closed group on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or LinkedIn. Every so often, issue challenges or prompts to the group, such as “snap a picture of your workspace,” or “share your best work meme.” You could also create social media games with prompts like “tag a coworker you admire,” or “tag a teammate who helped you out of a jam.”

These platforms make it easy to reshare content with coworkers, and offer teammates a glimpse into each other’s personal lives and personalities. Note that team members with privacy concerns can create new accounts with minimal information if uncomfortable sharing personal details.

5. Virtual Reality

Messaging apps, video call software and social platforms cannot completely recreate the feeling of being in the same room with colleagues. Virtual reality offers the closest experience to meeting in person with teammates. These programs enable users to meet up in digital rooms with avatars of friends or team members.

You can experiment with programs like Mozilla Hubs, MeetinVR, and Spatial by creating a virtual breakroom for staff. The graphics may make employees feel like players in a video game, which is a slightly more exciting experience than instant messaging or chatting on Zoom. Plus, since VR technology is new and novel, more staff members may check out the virtual water cooler and stick around to socialize.

6. Basecamp

Basecamp is an all-in-one remote work platform with multiple communication features such as forums, instant messaging, teams, and check-ins. The program has many options for virtual water cooler setups. For instance, you could post a personal poll for teammates to respond to, or start a group chat. Basecamp is a centralized hub for virtual work that can serve as a home to both casual chatter and serious discussion.

For more options, check out this list of remote work software.

How to set up a virtual water cooler

Here are the steps for setting up virtual water coolers in remote workspaces.

1. Pick a platform

Choosing the right platform for your virtual water cooler is an important step. Selecting the correct program from the get-go can get more of your team onboard with the idea of hanging out in the digital breakroom.

Staff are more likely to use programs that are simple, convenient, and familiar. Chances are, your virtual office already has access to platforms that can serve as remote water coolers. Pay attention to which programs your staff use more frequently and linger longer on. Also, you can try a few different options and stick with the software that works best.

2. Invite teammates

Once you have your room setup, invite coworkers to join. Digital water coolers should be open to all staff members. To ensure you never forget to add team members to the group, make the invitations to the lounge a step in your virtual onboarding process. Invites are important, because otherwise team members may be too busy orshy, to join the room of their own accord.

Team members who do not wish to participate can opt out by leaving the group or muting the chat or Slack thread.

3. Stoke the conversation

Building rapport remotely can be tough. Even after you create virtual water coolers for your teams, team members may not immediately start chatting. To ensure your staff use these spaces, stoke the conversation from time to time. For example, post team building questions or getting to know you prompts, play trivia, and share funny pictures or stories. Teammates are likely to follow suit and start posting regularly to the thread or chat. Note that following busy or stressful weeks where volume goes down, you may need to jump start the conversation again.

Virtual water coolers are relaxed spaces, yet it is important for leaders to make an occasional appearance. Bantering helps to humanize managers and fosters closer relationships between leaders and staff.

List of virtual water cooler ideas

From culture clubs to show and tell, here a list of creative ideas for virtual water coolers.

1. Just a Darn Fun Event

Just a Darn Fun Event is the team building equivalent of a mystery goodie bag. This one-hour, fully facilitated event consists of a surprise schedule of activities. Possibilities include games like trivia, Never Have I Ever, and Bingo, as well as impromptu jokes and photo ops. Even the host cannot 100% predict what might happen during the event, however, the call is sure to be a good time, every time. Just a Darn Fun Event works well as a structured-but-not-too-structured team hangout.

Learn more about Just a Darn Fun Event.

2. Culture Clubs

In traditional offices, coworkers hangout based on similar interests. For example, colleagues may join a company softball team, play board games over lunch, or try new restaurants together after work. Remote offices can also have clubs. For example, TeamBuilding has Slack channels devoted to glam makeup, tarot, and American Sign Language.

Starting clubs may actually be easier in virtual offices, since creating a Slack channel and coordinating Zoom meetings are much simpler processes than reserving conference rooms or finding another physical space to meet. These rooms are a good way for employees to meet coworkers and bond over shared interests. Plus, the practice tends to be inclusive since any staff member can find and join these groups.

3. GIF Wars

GIF wars are one of the most fun virtual water cooler activities. First, install an extension like Giphy on your platform. Then, periodically issue challenges, such as “your weekend plans,” “when a client calls you the wrong name,” or “the worst GIF to accidentally send to your mom.” Participants can either submit GIFS just for fun, or you can turn the game into a contest. Either way, coworkers can react to the GIFS with emojis and comments.

4. Show and Tell

Show and Tell is one of the best remote water cooler games. The activity helps coworkers learn more about each other’s personalities and personal lives. To host a round of show and tell, issue prompts such as “prom,” “a homemade gift,” or “an impulse purchase.” Then, give coworkers time to share stories and pictures and react to each other’s responses. Any staff member can initiate the game, and colleagues can also share random thoughts, news, or images between challenges.

Check out more connection games you can play to get to know each other.

5. Snack Time

Food brings folks together, especially at work. In offices, coworkers gather in communal kitchens to scavenge leftover meeting sandwiches or birthday cake. The vending machine is a common conversation spot, as is the coffee pot.

Virtual offices can still enjoy group snacks or coffee breaks, although less spontaneously. Simply schedule a time to take a break together, send out a meeting link, and gather via video call with a nibble and a fresh cup of coffee or tea. Then, chat and play games together while enjoying your treats.

Pro tip: Send remote employees boxes of snacks to enjoy during these calls.

For more tips, check out this guide to virtual coffee breaks.

6. Animal Cams

Watching animal cams is one of the most relaxing and amusing remote water cooler activities. Coworkers can queue up critter cams and watch together during breaks. Teammates can take turns selecting the animal webcam of the day, and can message each other while watching. For a more interactive experience, employees can visit a channel like DashDucks that allows audience members to feed the animals for a small fee.

Pro tip: Give team members a daily or weekly allowance to feed the animals if the webcam has a feeding option.

7. Question Games

Question games can serve as conversation starters when mingling with remote colleagues. These activities are simple and fast, and players can join or leave the game anytime. Plus, the answers reveal interesting facts and tidbits about teammates.

Here are a few question games to play on virtual water coolers:

  • This or That
  • Would you Rather
  • Twenty Questions
  • Never Have I Ever
  • Truth or Dare
  • Never Have I Ever

Feel free to think up your own challenges to pose to coworkers.

Check out more fun question games.

8. Water Cooler Trivia

Trivia is one of the easiest and most fun games for virtual water coolers. You can either install a Slack app like Water Cooler Trivia to facilitate games automatically, or post questions to the group in a thread or video call. You can play as teams or individually. Either tally up points over a period of time, such as a workweek, or count every question as a standalone challenge.

Virtual water cooler trivia lets teammates flex their knowledge. Plus, the game helps shier or more private coworkers connect with team members, since participants can interact with teammates without having to share personal information or think up witty commentary.

For more tips, read about online trivia.

9. Puzzles

Puzzles are equal parts calming and stimulating, and are perfect activities for water cooler breaks. Teammates can solve jigsaw puzzles together online. To play the game together, choose or create a puzzle on Jigsaw Explorer, then send participants a link to join the puzzle room. The game syncs so that players can move pieces in real time.

Check out more team building puzzles.

Virtual water cooler conversation topics

Here is a list of talking points to start conversations during remote water cooler breaks.

  1. What is your height?
  2. What was your last TV show binge?
  3. What book do you recommend reading?
  4. What are you most looking forward to this week?
  5. Where are you going to or would you like to travel next?
  6. What’s currently happening in your city?
  7. Share the last text you got from a parent or sibling.
  8. What is the strangest thing your pet does?
  9. What’s your latest discovery?
  10. Tell me a joke.
  11. Share a savage insult you received from a child.
  12. Share a bizarre fact.
  13. Share your funniest puns.
  14. Describe a moment where you instantly regretted an action.
  15. What is the strangest coincidence that has ever happened to you?
  16. Assuming past lives exist, what do you think you did your last time around?
  17. What is something you have always wanted to try?
  18. What is something you will never try again?
  19. What is your favorite app?
  20. What are three objects you couldn’t live without?
  21. What’s something that costs less than $5 and is useful or brings instant happiness?
  22. What always makes you laugh, without fail?

For similar talking topics, check out this list of icebreaker prompts.

Conclusion

Remote team members need time to unwind and bond with coworkers. Casual conversations breed trust and familiarity and improve teamwork. Not to mention, these interactions help telecommuting teammates feel closer to each other, more connected to the company, and less lonely and isolated while working from home.

Digital water coolers also help to create a cohesive company culture, a feat that can be quite a challenge when teammates work from dozens of entirely different offices. These rooms help colleagues get to know each other better and understand each other on a personal level, and make the workplace more pleasant to boot.

Next, check out this list of online collaboration tools.

FAQ: Virtual water cooler

Here are answers to common questions about creating a virtual water cooler.

What are virtual water coolers?

Virtual water coolers are spaces where remote teammates can connect and hold casual conversations. These areas take the place of break rooms, kitchens, cafeterias, vending machines, and other areas where coworkers congregate in traditional offices. The purpose of these spaces is to give distanced colleagues a chance to interact and get to know each other on a more personal level.

How do you set up a virtual water cooler?

To set up a virtual water cooler, first choose a platform. Slack or Basecamp are the easiest options, however you could also use repeated Zoom meetings, group chats, social media groups, or virtual reality platforms. Once you set up your room, invite colleagues to the chosen channel. Then, encourage conversations by posting prompts or starting games.

How do you create virtual water cooler moments?

Your staff may be shy, especially if teammates are new or have yet to meet colleagues in person. You can create virtual water cooler moments by posting prompts or questions or starting games in the chat or channel. Try to keep conversations as natural and breezy as possible, and avoid work topics whenever possible.

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Author: Angela Robinson

Team building content expert. Angela has a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and worked as a community manager with Yelp to plan events for businesses.

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