Virtual Watercooler Breaks: The Value of Informal Communication in Remote Teams

Recently, I came across an interesting study by a well-known German university. It revealed that about 80% of successful ideas created in teams were born from informal conversations, both in co-located and virtual teams. It also stated that in R&D teams, almost 90% of conversations could be described as informal. So, informal communication doesn’t only have psychological value, but is an essential component of innovation.

According to my own experience, conversations on informal topics are key for getting your team connected. Distributed teams don’t have the opportunity for casual watercooler talks, so they might have a deficit of this important component. If people work together on a regular basis, even if they are not located in the same office, they eventually get to know each other better. But the bigger the team is, the lower the natural tendency for bonding.

One of the things we do at Wrike (where our distributed team counts for over 60 people today, and is growing) is that at our regular company meeting, apart from talking about plans and achievements, we also weave in some personal info into the mix. For example, some people may share photos from recent vacations, we introduce newcomers with some information about their hobbies and interests, etc. The team likes it, and it definitely gives additional topics for internal discussions. Also, we try to meet in person as frequently as possible. I’ve noticed that every face-to-face meeting improves collaboration, because team members get more open to communication and feel more comfortable when they need to put their minds together at work.

All of this contributes to forming a friendly and productive environment where people don’t just work, but enjoy to work. And it is no surprise that this, consequentially, makes a positive impact on employee retention.

How important do you think informal communication is for work performance? Do you have some personal tips or success story on this topic?

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