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The digital water cooler: How businesses are building morale among remote employees

While remote work allows for flexibility and collaboration, businesses are looking for ways to build morale on digital platforms.
By Telstra
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Remote working has been termed ‘the future of work.’ And for good reason—for many businesses today, it has evolved from an employee perk to a business necessity. Companies seeking to grow in a global economy now have an easier time drawing talent from a global pool. For some, the motivation is also economic: remote working lowers overhead costs and promotes employee retention and productivity, a Harvard Business Review study found, making it particularly appealing for start-ups looking to cut costs. For others, employees in international offices often need to collaborate on the same projects despite different time zones. TechCast, a George Washington University Think Tank, projects that by 2019, 30% of workers in industrialized countries will work remotely.

Despite its benefits, one of the issues raised by this increase in remote working is replicating in a digital environment, the social bonds that occur naturally in the break room of traditional offices or over a post-work beer. While workplace socializing is good for morale, it’s also good for business—one study found that the employees who were most social and interacted with coworkers frequently were also the most productive.

To overcome that, gamification has been one solution for a number of firms. By shifting things like get-to-know-you exercises that companies often use in the onboarding process to the online space, colleagues hundreds of miles apart can share a laugh and a bit of recreation.

The web app automation service Zapier, used by companies like Buzzfeed, Spotify, and Adobe, has made this approach a part of their weekly schedule. In weekly all-team video calls employees play “Better Know a Teammate ” featuring games like “Two Truths and Lie” and “Cribs: Remote Offices Edition.” And on Fridays, employees post updates of what they did that week and include tidbits about what they’ve been up to outside of work as well. “This keeps the ‘water cooler’ talk that’s easy to miss in a remote team,” says Danny Schreiber, who handles marketing at Zapier.

At the app development company Clevertech, colleagues join up online to take on CodeWars challenges independent of work—the coder equivalent of a pick-up basketball game after clocking out. And employees also created a digital “milestone room” via chat where coworkers can share and celebrate personal victories like a new marathon personal record. Engineers at the viral news site Upworthy even began a weekly Friday afternoon Wii U session where colleagues from Seattle to New York battle in friendly Mario Kart races.

Of course, online collaboration tools aren’t just for fun and games. Services like Telstra Cloud Collaboration have enabled businesses to make progress towards company goals in leaps and bounds. Telstra’s Cloud Collaboration solution—which includes telephone, messaging, and web and video conferencing—has been used by operations ranging from an Australian civil and mining construction contractor to the skin care firm Jurlique.

Whether used for work or play, online collaboration tools like videoconferencing and messaging promise to be an integral part of how businesses operate in the future. Companies and employees who begin maximizing the potential of these services now—both for work and for having fun now and then—will reap the benefits down the line.

Read more about how Telstra’s solutions and technology allow clients to realize the full benefits of virtual collaboration.

This article was produced on behalf of Telstra by Quartz creative services and not by the Quartz editorial staff.

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