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In recent years there’s been increasing interest in researching the value of ‘watercooler moments’ – the informal moments of connection. Specifically their importance for organisations’ productivity, staff morale and for breaking down departmental silos. So the demise of these water cooler moments during Covid (whether or not they were your ‘thing’ personally) should matter to you as a leader. And thought needs to be given to how they’re recreated without exacerbating the ‘Zoom fatigue’ many are feeling.
It can be easy if you’re at a stage in your life where your social and emotional life is mainly outside the office, or if you’re fortunate enough to live somewhere where you have a dedicated space for working, not to be aware of how others may be experiencing remote working. If you’re a leader, many of those you’re managing may not be as fortunate as you and working from home may not be a calm experience (and by that I don’t just mean small children interrupting your calls…). Moreover, your team members may well have social lives that historically centred largely around their workplace and work colleagues, with all this meant for boosting connections between team members.
Similarly, as an established leader you may well be finding the endless video calls tiring but not intimidating. But again, for some you manage this way of communicating will not feel comfortable – seeing themselves loom large on a screen when they start talking; contributing to a debate without any preliminary small talk; being unable to pick up on the non-verbal supportive signals from colleagues when they do contribute.
Of course many of the people you manage may well be thriving in this remote world, having found substitutes for the ‘watercooler moments’, being confident to speak up on video calls and enjoying not being interrupted or distracted by colleagues when they’re working on something that requires particular focus.
But be careful not to assume anything or to project your experience of working from home onto your teams. Neither should you assume that this (or any other article…) knows how your team are feeling or what they’re experiencing. Communicate with your team and be open to their suggestions of how things could work better to support morale, productivity and creativity. There are moral and business imperatives to do so.
Clare Cox is an Executive Coach