How a Virtual Watercooler Saved Us! 3 Ways to Re-engage your Remote Team


Bear with me as I kick this off with a little bit of reminiscing.

It’s 2019 and I am literally all over the place. I’m in the office, I’m at the gym, I’m at every family gathering, I’m traveling a ton — I’m everywhere and I love it! My count of social interactions per day is through the roof and as a result I feel a plethora of good — valued at work, known in my communities, worldly, interesting, full of adventure, and energized.

Then the world changes, and all the connections I have start to fade away. Months of work from home, “gym” from  home, “eat-out” from home, everything from home, and I progressively feel worse and worse — worried, unsure, unknown, and disconnected from the world.

Here is my best guess as to why I felt this way (outside of the obvious reason of living through a pandemic).

My place in this world is validated by the variety of connections, conversations, and interactions I have in my day to day life. Pre-Covid (there I officially said it), I effortlessly filled this need for human to human connection in almost every part of my daily routine. I was constantly having conversations with people in and outside of my close circle, sometimes deep, sometimes surface level but always fulfilling. When Covid happened, it shut down more than all the communal spots in town - it shut down the frequency at which we converse with other humans outside our bubble.

I felt this disconnect the most at work, virtual meetings quickly became something I dreaded and I missed connecting with colleagues outside of my team. Some of my favorite co-workers were people I didn’t work directly with but I knew them from bumping into them in the hall or sitting with them at lunch. Outside of the office fostering these relationships or building new ones can feel impossible. For example, I’m not going to call Dave from accounting to ask him how his daughter's swim meet went, that would be weird, but if he was in the office I’d want to hear all about it.

As a part of a workforce, I’m most successful in my job when I know the people I work with and feel like they know me. When I don’t feel this way I feel unengaged, disconnected, and dare I say apathetic? This makes me worried for myself and for my remote team because I know remote work is here to stay — how and where we work has forever changed.

Employees have had a taste of what life can be like when working remotely and they’re not giving it up, nor should they. Here are some stats thanks to Forbes - 97% of employees don’t want to return to the office full time and 61% would rather work remotely than in an office period. Organizations like Twitter and Slack have listened to their workforce and offered employees the option to remain permanently remote, other companies like Salesforce are offering employees a hybrid model with some days in the office, others remote.

Here’s the other thing, we’ve been doing really great work from home. Despite what my old school uncle thinks, remote workers are more productive at home than when in the office — turns out my leggings don’t impact my brain power and if anything, I work better in sweats than in heels. BusinessWire reported that at a high level employees have been 47% more productive working from home than working in an office. We’re so productive in fact that we’re at high risk for burnout. A workforce that feels burnt out and disconnected is obviously not good, so how do we prevent this? How do we recreate the hallway conversations that got us through those tough days? How do we create safe spaces for our workforce to genuinely get to know each other?

Here is a simple yet impactful way to re-engage your remote team: a virtual watercooler — a place to have face to face time with people you work directly or indirectly with. Just like in-person, virtual watercooler talk can be light and spirited or more structured, more meaningful.

Okay, so HOW?! How does your remote team do this and how do you make it simple and easy? Let me get to that by sharing what my team did and the impact it’s had on all of us. In one sentence - we twined!

twine is a new way to power face to face connections within your organization. More specifically, twine recreates the stumble upon connections and conversations that used to happen all the time in person at the office. As a user joins a twine networking session they are matched for timed video conversations with their peers. To help guide these conversations so that they’re engaging, twine comes with a set of conversation starters that you can customize. Each twine your team deploys will be scheduled like any meeting but unlike another zoom call it’ll be fun!

Here are three ways our team has deployed twine to build culture, engagement, and connection within our remote team:

  1. Themed twines:  Music, food, travel, entertainment, movies, name a theme, we’ve twined about it!  Using a theme, we’ve created a space for our team to come together to talk about a specific topic. Our most recent twine was themed around music. The stack of conversation starters in the room included questions like “What would your past self say about your current music choices?” or “If you were in a rock band what role would you play and why?”. During this twine I learned that our Head of Partnerships, Evan Casey, used to be in a band and even toured, never would have guessed.
  2. Coffee Roulette twine: These more casual conversations are a great way for our team to warm up the day with some relaxing one on one time. Morning coffee routines look different in 2021, the coffee is just as hot but the company is cold or non-existent. To battle this, every Monday, we kick off the week with an internal meeting that transitions to a twine where we get to catch up with one another on how the weekend was. It’s a great way to jump back into the work week and reminisce.
  3. Plank with Friends: Here is one you can join and try with us! This is exactly what it sounds like, a wellness activity that is quick and easy to set up. We dial into twine and match with each other for 2 minute planks, it is a great exercise and often hilarious. I join this every week and my core (and networking muscle!) is thankful. The burst of energy I have after a plank with friends is awesome - I usually join for 5 matches, planking with 5 other people all before 8 AM!  If you want to check it out, you can sign up here.

These are just a few ways my team and the teams I support use twine to stay connected and intentionally build culture in our remote first world.  A couple other popular use cases include twining with leadership executives after an all-hands, breakout conversations after a town hall, or new employee orientation.  We even have teams that send out cocktail kits and then hosts a twine happy hour each week.

Creativity has no limit and I love it. In all, a connected workforce is key to a company's culture and a strong culture is key to performance, results, and growth.  I challenge you to think about how your team is fostering your company culture and what you might do to help everyone feel more connected and if you get stuck, we know who can help!

Zola Zermeno is a Global Account Manager at twine.

Prior to joining the twine team Zola worked at DoubleDutch, an award winning mobile event app company and Cvent, an industry leader in innovative event tech. Having 6+ years in the event tech industry Zola brings a wealth of knowledge of virtual and in person event design, project management, and is known for being endlessly optimistic about the future of events and the impact they have on the world.

Written by Lawrence Coburn, CEO and Co-Founder
Zola Zermeño

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