The Virtual Water Cooler

A key to excellence in managing remote staff is to go beyond formal communication and status reports, to have regular, frequent informal exchanges.

For example, encouraging creativity and innovation often requires interaction beyond the confines of formal channels. In a real office (as opposed to virtual), casual conversations, around the stereotypical coffee machine or water cooler, facilitate these types of contacts.

To really succeed in remote management, you need a virtual water cooler. Think about your own experience with communication outside formal channels or settings. Think about all that you heard or learned at gatherings at the local pub.

Think of such a channel as one for information gathering, listening; occasionally an exchange of ideas, a conversation.

A simple way of creating a virtual water cooler is for a manager to be available in a chat context (e.g. chat room), or for instant messages, at a previously posted time.

If there’s some news or event in the company, industry or larger context, pick that as a topic, announce it, and make yourself available.

If you seek to increase unity among members of a distributed group, facilitate communication. For example, once a week, have a different team member present some tech news or tidbit that they found interesting. But the manager MUST attend those meetings. For others, it should be optional.

Strengthen the sense of a shared mission, a shared vision.

Communicate outside the direct and most immediate, to allow room for the remarkable.