Virtual coffee breaks – tips and tricks! The easy way to a healthy corporate cultureBlog / September 27, 2022 / with Christoph Drebes
Between April and September 2021, more than 15 million U.S. workers voluntarily quit their jobs- a new record number (McKinsey, 2021). 51% left their jobs because they didn’t feel like they belonged at their company.
HR managers must find a solution to maintain company culture, particularly when their organization has switched to hybrid and remote work policies. Employees often report that they miss informal contact with colleagues. The solution is quite simple: virtual coffee break between colleagues! But how do virtual coffee breaks work?
WHAT IS A VIRTUAL COFFEE BREAK?
A virtual coffee break is when two or more colleagues meet via a video call platform for an informal chat. These meetings became increasingly popular during the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s because the daily chit-chat in the kitchen and the chance meeting by the watercooler no longer existed.
However, with the rise of hybrid and remote work, virtual coffee breaks have become important methods of keeping employees connected.
BENEFITS OF VIRTUAL COFFEE NETWORKING
Coffee break meetings help employees to keep in touch with colleagues and avoid feeling lonely while working from home. Randomly matched coffee meetings can also bring more variety to a daily routine. In these meetings, colleagues from different departments and locations are matched with each other.
Randomly assigned virtual coffee breaks offer the following advantages:
- Increased well-being: In a survey by Nectar, 69.5% of employees said that they would be happier if they had deeper connections with their colleagues. Coffee breaks with colleagues can be fun and relaxing while allowing people to get to know each other better.
- Sense of belonging: Working from home eliminates the physical place of identification with the company – the office. Even though employees value the flexibility of remote work, 63% feel that the office is an important and positive part of company culture. Hybrid and remote companies can recreate some of the spontaneity and opportunity for socializing by approving time for virtual coffee breaks.
- Increased productivity: Good moods increase motivation and productivity - according to an Oxford University study, happy employees are 13% more productive. So, employers can also benefit by investing in relationships and giving employees time for social breaks.
- Cross-departmental networking: Via randomly assigned coffee breaks, employees get to know other departments and colleagues they might not have met. This prevents the formation of internal silo mentalities. By connecting people in different departments, employees also gain an appreciation for each other's work and have a contact they can ask for help solving future problems.
VIRTUAL COFFEE BREAK TOPIC IDEAS
Sitting in front of a new person for the first time can sometimes be challenging to find a suitable way to start the conversation. The virtual setting can make this even more difficult, with body language cues hidden behind the camera.
Ice-breaker questions are an easy solution for getting started. They can help you find a conversation starter in a relaxed way and get to know the conversation partner a little better.
Here is a list of possible ice-breaker questions for your virtual coffee break:
- What projects are you currently working on? Are you enjoying them?
- What has been your highlight so far this week?
- What TV series or podcasts are you following at the moment?
- What three things can’t be missing from your desk?
- Do you listen to music while you work? What's in your work playlist?
- What are your favorite productivity tools, sites, or apps?
Tip: There are also virtual coffee matching platforms that automatically match users and generate ice-breaker questions. That makes it even easier to get started!
HOW TO HOST A VIRTUAL COFFEE BREAK
First and foremost, when planning a virtual coffee meeting, understand that your goal is networking.
A healthy corporate culture consists of several factors: trust, appreciation, active stress prevention, a sense of belonging, acknowledging diversity, and strong internal networks. Virtual coffee breaks can assist with all of these factors, but at least one of the participants should come prepared.
But what exactly does the setup of coffee breaks look like? The number of people involved makes a big difference. It has a significant impact on the extent to which employees interact with each other during a virtual meeting.
MEETING BETWEEN TWO COLLEAGUES
This setup allows two colleagues to get to know each other better. It allows them to address each other personally, ask questions, and discuss their experiences. If you're using a random matching format, then two should be the preferred number of people.
In groups of two, colleagues have a much better chance to learn about the other person's role and specific tasks. In addition, we recommend not to plan longer than 15 minutes for the first meeting. Keeping it relatively short ensures there's no pressure for the conversation partners to fill a long time with content. If the participants really hit it off, then they can always schedule a follow-up call.
Random coffee or coffee roulette is particularly suitable for breaking down silos in the company and networking with employees across departments. It also builds appreciation for and trust in the competence of other departments.
MEETING IN GROUPS
Getting to know unfamiliar colleagues often proves difficult in larger groups. For example, not everyone will get to speak to the same extent, which can cause frustration. However, group meetings are ideal for team members who already know each other. If more than three colleagues meet for a random virtual coffee break, the focus should be on bringing fun and variety into the daily work routine.
At Mystery Minds, for example, we have a Monday morning coffee call. All colleagues are free to join the call on Monday mornings to talk about their weekend and plans for the week ahead. This keeps everyone up to date and strengthens the sense of belonging. It's not just the caffeine that ensures every team member starts the new week motivated and energetic!
HOW DO YOU MAKE VIRTUAL COFFEE CHATS FUN?
The classic tools used for virtual coffee breaks are Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Webex, Skype, or Slack.
The choice often depends on the video conference software used internally by the company. However, a few of these virtual meeting tools have helpful features that coffee partners can creatively incorporate into the conversation:
TOOLS FOR VIRTUAL COFFEE BREAKS
Many don’t know that filters can be applied during a Zoom call. These can boost the mood immensely and bring additional fun into a conversation. A special twist: Combining the filters with ice-breaker questions: Which is your favorite filter and why?
However, employees should never forget to turn the filter off again after the conversation, especially if they use Zoom for business!
- Reactions with emojis:
Microsoft Teams and Zoom are especially useful for group virtual coffee breaks for one particular reason. Team members can share reactions such as applause or smiling emojis with the other interlocutors. In this way, every colleague can express emotions, even if they don’t get a chance to speak during the virtual Team Coffee. This makes the team coffee even more interactive.
Imagine that you’re having a virtual coffee with a colleague and talking about your last vacation in Hawaii. Wouldn’t it be great to show your colleague your favorite vacation photo? Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Webex, and Slack all offer a screen-sharing function.
- Ice-breaker and “info cards”
Mystery Coffee offers the possibility to include random ice-breaker questions. This function is especially helpful for starting a conversation during random coffee breaks with unknown colleagues. In addition, participants can access their partner's profile on the platform to learn more about them, including their location, department, and personal interests.
WHY IS INTERNAL NETWORKING IMPORTANT FOR COMPANIES?
Corporate culture consists of two levels:
- The first level is visible to the outside world. It is represented by a company’s vision and mission statement. Employer branding activity also contributes to the corporate culture that external viewers see. However, it might not be the full story.
- The second level is internal and not visible to outsiders. It includes the company's values (and whether they are lived in real life), relationships between colleagues, a sense of belonging, appreciation, and trust.
These two levels must be in harmony for employees to feel comfortable within the company. After all, what could be worse for an employee than accepting a new job based on the mission statement only to realize that it is not being implemented internally at all? How long will new employees stay if they feel the company's brand is false advertising?
REMOTE TEAMS AND COFFEE BREAKS
Remote work has a lot of benefits. A two-year Stanford University study found that remote workers were 13.5% more productive, 50% less likely to leave, and 9% more engaged in their work. However, it also comes with challenges for company culture.
As a 2021 McKinsey study shows, contact with colleagues is a crucial factor in consideration of changing jobs. While networking is far from the only factor determining a healthy corporate culture, it is crucial.
After all, only those who know their colleagues can build trust in them, fully appreciate their work, and feel a sense of belonging. Virtual coffee breaks are just one component of a whole range of offerings that companies should provide their employees. It’s a straightforward way to sustain a company’s culture over the long term, regardless of whether work is done remotely, hybrid, or in the office.
Once you decide that your organization should implement virtual coffee breaks, planning them is a breeze. There are plenty of platforms and tools that can make it simple to manage and add value to the process.
These casual get-togethers can contribute greatly to the company culture, whether in groups or in randomized meetings between two colleagues. A healthy corporate culture is essential for individual workers and the company's success.
Coffee break networking is a straightforward way to provide employees with a place to connect. Random meetings with unknown colleagues are particularly exciting: these add variety to everyday life and help create cross-departmental networking.
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About the author:
Christoph is an entrepreneur from Munich and co-founded Mystery Minds in 2016. Mystery Minds' mission is to make the world of work more human by creating meaningful, personal connections between colleagues. The remote-only team already works with over 250 international companies, helping them to strengthen internal networks and overcome silo mentalities.
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