We all miss the #OldNormal workplace. And we miss the “small talk” most of all. Casual workplace conversations are central to employee engagement. In its absence, an investment in employee engagement technology helps you cope.

There’s nothing inherently amiss with Work from Home. Except that there’s something about physical, in-the-moment proximity that is hard to replicate. The casual banter around the latest Netflix sensation or the cool new bakery you discovered may not, at first glance, seem to have anything to do with work. And that’s where you would go terribly wrong.

Spontaneous, “informal” interactions are often the “real workflow” of an organization. If hierarchies and matrices help maintain necessary distance, it is the greetings, high-fives, pats-on-the-backs, nods and nudges that provide the bridge. You can call it “small talk” if you want, but its benefits materialize on many levels – some pretty big. It breaks ice and builds bonds.

Our “water cooler” conversations add clarity to complex official rules and terms. They build efficiency and crank up productivity via knowledge transfer and collaborative teamwork. These informal meetups often serve as a brainstorming session and sounding board, with random discussions sparking great ideas and solutions to stubborn business problems.

And perhaps most importantly, this time gives workers a sense of belonging (a sense of one-ness with the company goal and journey), leading to happier souls at work and better states of mental and physical health too. We are social animals after all. And interpersonal connections help us stay that way.

Can I Have My Water Cooler Back? - Reasons To Seek Out An Employee Engagement Technology

If you could decode unsaid prayers, that would perhaps be number one on the Wish List of most peers, partners and networks.

As we settle into the rhythms of Zoom and Skype, those fun, unplanned moments that allowed us to refresh and unwind seem to be receding farther and farther into memory.

The Sense of Loneliness is Hurting Team Engagement 

The world of work is being re-set in unprecedented ways. The shift runs deep, beyond setting up personal workstations at home, all the way to our psyche and nerves. The absence of ‘company’ to engage with is turning work cold and clinical, sucking the joy out of a vibrant and dynamic daily ritual we have grown used to. And make no mistake, it’s taking a toll. After the initial honeymoon period, #WorkingFromHome is starting to throw up nasty surprises like stress and depression (apart from physical discomfort and ailments). A sense of ‘separation and alone-ness’ is the most commonly cited culprit.

Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO (pictured) acknowledged the elephant in the room recently when he spoke about the ‘lack of touch’ (a feeling of being disconnected from the office vibe) that we experience when we work remotely. He said he himself missed the “‘two-minute’ chance to connect with the person sitting next to him in a physical meeting — something a virtual meet can never hope to achieve really…” Closer home, things aren’t too different.

Delhi-based techie Suresh Sharma says, “I was initially enjoying working from home. However, with the passage of time, I realised it had taken a toll on my health. While working in my office space, I would be attending meetings and interacting with people. But, now, absolutely everything is online,"

‘Disconnection’ Comes With a Cost

The cost of a workplace that is disengaged can be high.

A survey published by HR Technologist earlier this year, found that 96% of employees will quit an organization for a salary hike of as little as 10%, an attitude which can be attributed to a company culture that get workers ‘kicked’ about work. We all know about the costs of high attrition of course, which involves - amongst other things - time and resources spent re-initiating and re-grooming new hires into the system.

There’s more evidence. 78% of executives confided in an exercise that employee engagement is key to business success. A Gallup study tells us that an engaged workforce can amplify profitability by as much as 21%. In another poll, HR leaders surveyed agree that continuous check-ins and feedback is critical for successful outcomes.

Why Lose Social Capital Built Up Over The Years?

The current disruption has robbed us all of a lot of things we once took for granted and that once defined our personality and lifestyle. Don’t let your organization culture be next on that victim list. Sure, social distancing could well be the norm going forward - just like the work from home model – but that doesn’t mean we have to live on our private little islands.

 It is possible to reboot the little moments of community magic at the workplace with digital innovation.

Does Your Company Need a New Water Cooler?

Probably not, if you can get tech to do the trick. The right product can help you recreate the ‘lost chemistry’ of the workplace by reviving every little and big interaction that made the workplace ‘cool’. Some of the things you will be able to do with an ultra-modern workforce engagement tool are:

  • Build efficiencies with precision: Open, honest and frequent Feedback-Loops help ‘listen’ and integrate actionable insights into the workflow as they happen, improving efficiencies in ‘real time’. Feedback campaigns at every stage of the employee lifecycle help analyse and improve KPIs that matter. You can also plug-in one-on-one coaches and mentors for specific workers (basis their ‘performance report card’) to raise efficiencies selectively and optimize training efforts. Easy and instant distribution of internal HR communication, protocol revisions and policy updates smoothen day-to-day activities.

  • Keep teams supercharged with delay-less appreciation and on-the-spot rewards: Micro and Macro ‘Moments of Success’ can be shared by both peers and supervisors, and celebrated with incentives which range from warmly hand-written ‘Well Done!’ Notes to lavish achievement awards (and everything in between). Not just that. Attractive perks and discount programs for employees, as well as thoughtful benefits like health insurance and loans (for home, car and kids’ education) can make workers feel appreciated and special. 

  • Turn work into joy: Intuitively designed employee engagement software and tools like Xoxoday Empuls make discussion (both one-on-one and in groups) natural and easy. Friendly and timely ‘pokes and nudges’ help planning and alignment, making sure every item on the To-Do List is ticked at the end of the day. Team Building features (like games and activities) tighten connection and culture. Sharing hierarchy-charts encourage folks to recognize and say “Hello” to colleagues in other departments and functions, multiplying rapport and strengthening communities.

  • Make better leadership decisions: Big Data analytics lets you monitor, measure and interpret performance intuitively and granularly. Feedback campaigns, on their part, let you stay on top of employee sentiment and track culture pulse every second. Together, they provide the crucial visibility you’ve been missing to take smarter talent and business decision.

Upgrading The Engagement  

Going on the defensive may be humankind’s natural reflex to crisis, but experts don’t agree that it is the wisest route to take. This applies to every function in the business including Accounting and Costs. A lot of organizations have chosen to take the ‘easy way out’ by shrinking teams, reviewing capex and opex, and cutting corners (the third is often a function of the first two).

Precedence, however, points to a different direction. Its message is powerfully clear:

Downtimes are, more than anything, valuable opportunities to introspect and apprise the business model, reimagine the SWOT and revamp capabilities across the chain. 

History, after all, favors the prepared. When they can’t go to sea, fishermen – they say – mend their nets for the next season. The ‘extra time and space’ we have on our hands at this moment is therefore a ‘Wake Up Call’ to strategically invest in technologies, processes and mindsets that can help the organize adapt to change in the best possible way and get ready for the ‘New Reality’ with revamped competitive edge.

Repurpose Savings Into Growth With People

Frankly, physical separation hasn’t been ‘peaches and cream’ for team morale and culture. The good news is wholesale restriction on movement has also resulted in substantial savings on corporate travel, real estate rent, office and infrastructure overhead and workday meals & snacks. Put two and two together, and you’ll probably agree that this creates the perfect opportunity to upgrade the workplace by investing in workforce engagement technology that drives business forward in the present and in the future. Most team engagement products - like xoxoday Empuls - are customizable to organizations of all sizes (startups to Fortune 500 brands), easily integrated in existing systems and technologies, simple to use, scalable at will, and won’t burn a hole in your pocket. Mapped against the transformation they usher from Day One, they make a strong business case – both from accounting and strategy perspective.

There’s no more powerful growth driver than your own people. You may skip the watercooler, but they deserve to get their ‘workplace’ back!