Let People Linger to Get Your Water Cooler Moments Back
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I’ve heard leaders, in the same breath, tout their remote work model as a competitive advantage only to immediately acknowledge their teams’ challenges in fostering spontaneity, organic collaboration, and human connection as seemingly inevitable downsides.
Were those spontaneous “water cooler moments” easier when we were all in the same room? Undoubtedly. However, suggesting that recreating these moments remotely is impossible is an overstatement. It clearly demands more intentionality and effort, but it’s far from impossible.
Managing remote teams doesn’t come with a one-size-fits-all approach. For many, it’s a new skill that requires development. Fortunately, there are simple places to start.
In this article, we’ll look at how managers can take advantage of the time before and after meetings to rekindle the spontaneity, accessibility, and connection of in-person work, even when remote.
Unlocking Natural Conversations in Virtual Meetings
In 2019, our team leveraged Lextech's UX research to unveil a key distinction between in-person and virtual meetings. The root of the issue lay in the way virtual meetings were structured. Video meeting tools often put the meeting host at the center of the experience, limiting the organic conversations surrounding in-person meetings—the informal chats before and after.
This led to the realization that it wasn’t physical distance but unnecessary complexity, constant need for invitations, and the barriers to free-flowing conversation hindering our team's connectivity.
So, the question remained: how could we foster an environment that naturally encourages intuitive and effortless conversations? The answer lay in allowing people to linger. Here, we'll delve into two examples of how we put this principle into action both before and after meetings.
Before Meeting Conversations
The 5-10 minutes before a meeting officially begins is when coworkers get to know each other better and connect. It’s where new opportunities are uncovered and new perspectives are shared.
In too many virtual environments, the participants are second-class citizens waiting for the conversation gatekeeper to unlock the door. Make sure you’re empowering those participants to take charge of their own experience and that your tools support it.
Here are some tips for facilitating before-meeting conversations:
- Turn off the meeting feature that traps attendees in a silent purgatory ‘waiting room.’
- Allow meetings to start without the host being present.
- Encourage people to show up a few minutes early (when they can) with the expectation of mingling for a few minutes.
- Schedule meetings to start at 5 minutes after the hour to provide open connection time.
- Include mingling as a recurring agenda item to reinforce the importance and establish a routine before the meeting.
After Meeting Huddles
A quick conversation after a meeting is momentum-building gold. In a remote setting, connecting in such a way is often too clunky to be efficient, or we overlook the opportunity entirely.
At Lextech, we refer to these post-meeting spaces as 'huddle rooms' in our digital office, akin to informal seating areas near conference rooms. These rooms offer a one-click solution for valuable, quick conversations. For instance, they are frequently used after stand-up meetings when participants wish to delve deeper into discussions without interrupting the main meeting. This allows team members to seamlessly transition into these huddle rooms and continue collaborating without the need for additional scheduling.
Here are some tips for enabling those after meeting conversations:
- End meetings at least 5 minutes before the top or bottom of the hour, preventing ad-hoc conversations from spilling over into other calendar items.
- Establish a dedicated huddle hub that doesn’t require last-minute calendar invites and meeting links. Creating all that on the fly wastes time and eats into huddle time.
- Encourage a subset of the group to stay in the meeting to continue while others leave. Hand over the ‘Host’ role to avoid forcing people out when the meeting ends.
- If a post-meeting huddle is likely, ensure the meeting host doesn’t have two consecutive meetings they lead where attendees could inadvertently enter the previous meeting.
- It’s energizing to visually see the momentum of a single meeting breaking into a handful of huddles afterward and know it didn’t turn into yet more calendar fodder for the team.
Unlocking Remote Team Connection: Embracing Principles and Strategies
Water cooler moments are about nurturing connections among individuals and transcending physical separation barriers. In this remote work era, leaders wield a pivotal influence in guiding their teams to cultivate meaningful relationships. This can be achieved by embracing two fundamental principles:
Dismiss the notion that feelings of isolation, meeting overload, and cumbersome collaboration are intrinsic to remote work. These are not unavoidable challenges.
Embrace the art of “letting people linger.” This practice creates essential space for spontaneous, ad hoc conversations to take root naturally and organically.
By incorporating these principles and adopting key strategies, whether pre- or post-meeting, remote team leaders can effectively bridge the physical gap and establish a vibrant culture of connection and collaboration.
About the Author
CEO & Chief Geek, LexGo
Alex Bratton is the CEO and Chief Geek at LexGo, an accomplished author, and an adjunct professor. With LexGo Work, he assists leaders in navigating the evolving landscape of work while also spearheading enterprise business growth through Lextech's innovative technology-driven solutions.
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