Humans are social by nature, so it's no surprise the virtual water cooler concept has garnered interest as hybrid work gains traction. Unified communications, or UC, not only helps automate and streamline workflows, but it makes communication easier. As a result, we can be more effective in our jobs. This benefit doesn't only apply to one-on-one interactions, but groups as well, and this is where the simulated water cooler bubbles up in a novel way.
All work and no play make us dull employees. UC helps employees overcome the isolation of home-based working and feel part of the organization. Employers know how important employee engagement is to productivity.
Here are two examples of how UC can support the notion of the virtual water cooler.
1. Water cooler channels
Team messaging platforms, like Slack, have made channels part of the collaboration lexicon. These channels are meant to be persistent -- always on -- so workers can drop in and out as needed, making them ideal spots to gauge the social barometer of the group. Channels can become unwieldy as user bases become large, but for small teams, departments and branch offices, they are a great way for users to share what's new and stay current.
Since channels are easy to use and join, create several channels that are built around a particular group or area of interest. Within the channels, of course, there are many ways to enable great water cooler engagement, among them group chats, private chats, video sessions, and photo and file sharing.
2. Virtual reality
This is an emerging space, but leading UC platforms are now offering virtual reality (VR)-based settings for teamwork. Since the value of the water cooler is about informal, offline engagement, these settings offer safe spaces where people can interact more freely, more creatively and more personally. By using avatars, people can create new personas, and through gamification, users can enjoy a fun diversion from the otherwise hectic pace of work.
As the workplace keeps trending younger, this form of interaction will become more common and --thanks to more sophisticated VR tools -- more immersive. While IT leaders will see VR as another way to make hybrid work more effective, workers may well see it as a great way to totally re-imagine the water cooler experience.
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