Is it possible to digitally transform the water cooler?

water cooler
Image credit | Pictrough/

The water cooler is something that we took for granted for years, but it is becoming increasingly clear that it is an important part of business life. Whether your water cooler is an actual water cooler or whether it is a seating area with squishy bean bags, the reality is that ideas germinate around those informal ‘how was your evening’ kind of conversations.

It is also a very effective way to build trust in teams, taking relationships from polite, reserved professional ones to easier, more ‘hey, why don’t we….’ ones which can move on to a whiteboard, a plan and a new product.

So, how you digitally transform that experience?

It isn’t easy and no-one is there right now. But many people and companies are thinking the same and are working on a water cooler app.

There are already apps being developed. One is Minglr, developed by Tom Malone at MIT Sloan School of Management. Others are being developed by Google, Facebook, Instagram and Reddit.

The question is: do they or can they replicate a water cooler moment? The answer is probably not, nothing can replicate face to face meetings but the water cooler moment may need to change too.

Many managers do not necessarily want to talk about the weather and the pandemic. So, some are making themselves available on whatever technology suits them, after work, to chat with their teams and with no specific agenda.

Another problem is, of course, that by the end of the working day most people are so sick of Zoom meetings that they want to throw their laptop from the top of a tall building and head for the beach. But, at the same time, we are all becoming such digital beings that a few minutes with the boss, an influencer or colleagues – without an agenda – must make sense.

We may not have recreated the water cooler moment, exactly, but if we push technology at the problem, while tweaking the problem itself, we may get close.

And that seemingly pointless moment might affect many companies’ decisions about whether to go back to an office, full time, or not.

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