Connection and ideas; keeping the 'Water Cooler' scene alive
As we begin to move back into our offices, nothing is the same, many businesses are continuing with remote work as a hybrid model. This flexibility for employees is becoming an expectation more than a perk so businesses must adapt. Previously, leaders recognized the importance of the casual meetings at the water cooler or break room and could site examples of ideas, innovations, productivity improvements and team connections that were were born from these type of chance interactions.
Maybe now and post-pandemic, the 'Water Cooler' is a person or small team who facilitates this process so businesses do not rely on 'chance'.
Many leaders worry that remote work could reduce the ad hoc meeting of employees that leads to innovative new products. Although we have collaboration platforms such as Slack and many others, they do not replace the kind of conversations that occur when two employees from different parts of the company happen to meet over coffee or lunch and discuss their work, customers, and challenges. The answer could be to assign a staff member the role of reaching out to staff throughout the company to look for connections and introduce those working on projects that could benefit from talking and working with employees working on other projects.
The person or small team of people tasks with the assignment of being a human water cooler would need primarily to be a connect-the-dots type of person, a good listener with a good collection of questions to draw out each person to talk about their work. The person would need to be a great facilitator to arrange and facilitate the introduction and possibly the first meeting of the parties involved. Of course, the first question would need to be, whom do you work with now? The rest of each initial conversation would be dedicated to asking great open questions and understanding the implications of the answer then, finding others to connect with so a completely new product or service can be developed.
There are benefits to this method, even after staff return to the office. A concerted, ongoing effort would yield a higher volume and consistency of the results. In physics, physicists don't rely on the random collision of particles to get results; they build tools like the Large Hadron Collider to ensure they get results!