Today’s office and work environment is almost unrecognizable from a few decades ago. Many people work remotely and often people have co-workers all over the world. Most jobs require a lot of time in front of a computer and many people almost exclusively work in front of a computer.
The digital age has enhanced the work environment, enabled us to be more creative, and increased our freedom and flexibility. However, if you’re not careful, the same technology could hinder your productivity, hurt your employees, and threaten your company.
Sitting in front of a computer for eight or ten hours each day has serious detrimental effects on productivity, job satisfaction, collaboration, and creativity. Company culture suffers and employees–in-house and remote–feel isolated.
So, as a business owner, what’s the optimal solution?
A good old-fashioned water cooler* and a corporate culture that encourages consistent breaks.
*Water coolers can take the form of many things: foosball tables, basketball courts, coffee machines, etc. And in today’s digital age, effective water coolers can be virtual as well and take the form of various social media communications platforms that employees can use to share YouTube videos, memes, and otherwise just shoot the breeze.
Not convinced? Here are five reasons water coolers (in their various forms) should be implemented and encouraged in the workplace:
1. Increased Productivity
Boosting productivity by taking breaks and casually chatting with your co-workers is not as counter-intuitive as it sounds.
After a certain amount of time concentrating on one thing, you lose focus (whether you realize it or not) and your performance declines–even if the task is exciting and not redundant. Think about listening to a music album from the beginning. How long does it take before you you realize you zoned out and aren’t sure how many tracks you’ve heard? We all do this, even with our favorite bands.
Physical movement rejuvenates our bodies and minds, gets the blood flowing, and jump starts our brains back into action. Any type of break can be good, but interaction with co-workers is a healthy option that requires a switch from what we were doing and gives our brains something different to focus on for a bit.
So encourage your employees to get up regularly, chat around the water cooler, and then get back to being productive.
2. Increased Collaboration
Certain teams and people need to collaborate on particular projects. You need development and IT, project managers, content creators, etc. to contribute and collaborate to build new products and services.
But structured meetings and work sessions aren’t the single best method to collaborate. Sometimes random interactions between co-workers are equally effective and relationship-building. As employees develop relationships with co-workers on a casual, unofficial level, their trust and ability to collaborate increases and ideas flow more freely.
3. Increased Creativity
As part of the increased collaboration between employees, new and creative ideas emerge as well. Planned meetings that put the right people in a room to throw around ideas are useful. But so are unplanned interactions in the hallway or in a casual online chat. Sometimes forced “idea meetings” don’t catch us at our best creative time or are too structured to generate the right ideas.
Casual conversations on the fly have the potential and ability to spark ideas that might not otherwise happen. Sometimes an outside perspective or offhand comment from someone not related to the project or issue can offer the insight or well-timed word that makes things click.
And increased creativity is a simple side effect of moving around and seeing and hearing different things than what have been on the computer screen for the last hour.
4. Increased Job Satisfaction
Water coolers boost job satisfaction not just because people can say they have a foosball table in the office. Those types of perks certainly help, and people might consciously attribute their job satisfaction to such physical perks of an office. But those perks are superficial compared to the more relaxed, collaborative culture created by encouraged, casual interaction between employees.
Increased job satisfaction is also a natural follow-on of increased productivity and creativity. As people accomplish more and better things at work, they are naturally more pleased with their work and with their job in general.
5. Builds Company Culture
Job satisfaction is one step to improving company culture and encouraging water cooler interactions builds company culture in other ways as well.
For one, it gets people away from their tasks and their computer screens and gets them in a place to talk to each other–including those who may be less socially-apt and likely to seek out interaction with others.
It also includes remote employees who have a higher likelihood of feeling left out of in-house benefits and in-person rapport. While virtual water coolers don’t pull someone away from a computer screen, they still give people a break from the task at hand and enables them to build relationships with their co-workers on the other side of the world.
As people talk and build trust with each other, the overall culture within the office (physical or virtual) will improve. All of these effects have knock-on effects to each other: creativity boosting culture and culture boosting collaboration, etc.
Having your employees sit in front of a computer for 40 hours a week is not the best way to accomplish your business goals. Rather, giving your employees reasons to get up and interact (or switch to a social network and interact) every so often is the key to boost productivity and improve company culture.