The problem with watercooler conversations

December 20, 2021
December 20, 2021 Maddie Grant

In ALL of the culture conversations we have been facilitating, we’re talking a lot about the value of hallway conversations. Also known as watercooler conversations, these interactions can strengthen “weak ties” which are just as critical for creating a sense of belonging as strong ties – they can help to building relationships between people whether or not they work directly together, they can sparking ideas for collaboration, they can help cross silos, and they are generally seen as an important element of the physical workspace that many people miss when working remotely.

While this is true, it’s also really important to remember that pre-pandemic hallway conversations  were never equally distributed.  What if you’re in a team that works in a call center, or simply handles phone calls all day?  What if you’re not allowed to go to a different floor?  What if you work out “in the field” with members?

When do these folks get to have watercooler conversations?

And as a matter of fact, what if you’re an introvert and not particularly comfortable with talking to people you don’t know? Or shy about interrupting or joining in with two people who are already chatting?  Or don’t use the office kitchen? Or there’s no actual watercooler or spot where you might linger around other people near your workspace?

While we don’t dispute the importance of weak ties and ways of collaborating that are not “pre-ordained” or pre-planned, we must not forget that something as simple as this idea doesn’t necessarily apply to all employees in the same way.

So what can we going to do about that as we plan our hybrid office?  More soon on this topic.





Photo by Point3D Commercial Imaging Ltd.

Maddie Grant

Maddie Grant, CAE, is an expert culture designer and digital strategist who focuses on helping organizations unlock the power in their culture and navigate culture change. She has specific expertise in digital transformation and generational differences in the workplace. She has explored the language of workplace culture for several years through her books, co-authored with her partner in business and life Jamie Notter, including Humanize: How People-Centric Organizations Succeed in a Social World (2011), the Amazon category best-seller When Millennials Take Over: Preparing for the Ridiculously Optimistic Future of Business (2015) and the Non-Obvious Guide to Employee Engagement (2019).
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