Recapturing Water Cooler Moments, Online

2 minute read

For just over a decade, I’ve been working entirely remotely. Some key personal benefits have been the lack of an hour-long drive to the office and back, plenty of cost savings due to that lack of a commute, reduced distractions, and an improved work-life balance. I’ve worked with colleagues and clients from across the world, exposing me to diverse perspectives and opportunities for professional growth.

For the majority of that time, one thing has been missing in implementing remote work: those key watercooler moments that spark creative ideas and solutions to problems. But no longer. Rubber duck debugging is excellent, but bouncing ideas off a colleague without needing to schedule a meeting can be invaluable. Plenty of teams do all-hands sessions, but certain personality types dominate the discussion in those meetings.

Pixar’s building was famously designed with an open floor plan and common areas, such as a central atrium, a cafe, and a screening room, intended to encourage chance encounters and informal conversations among employees. The aim was to create a space to facilitate the sharing of ideas and foster a sense of community and collaboration among the team.

How can we help promote this type of creativity and collaboration online?

For the past decade, the answer has been text-based communication. A lot of teams followed a progression that started from IRC, which is still near and dear to my heart, then moved to the now defunct HipChat, and from there, most people moved to Slack or Teams. Some brave souls even transitioned into Discord, used primarily by gamers but quickly picking up steam in the business world.

At first, these communication platforms offered only text-based communication, and you would bolt on meetings through Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, or Zoom. As the platforms evolved, they added support for video and voice calls, and plenty of teams implemented “team rooms” that you could drop into for collaboration. Still, these solutions have yet to help provide a mechanism for those chance watercooler moments.

At Opreto, we have a RocketChat instance for text-based communication. But, we have been experimenting with Spatial Audio based applications for increased collaboration and those hard-to-create watercooler moments. After testing some applications, we finally landed on Kumospace.

Our Kumo allows us to create a layout like in an actual office, with shared spaces and personal offices that you can customize. You only hear the audio of people in your audio zone based on either proximity or the room you’re currently in. You can move throughout the layout, dropping in and out of different conversation zones as needed. Of course, you can go into a ‘head down’ mode, where nobody can interrupt you, or you can close the door to your office.

But has it created those watercooler moments?

Kumo has been a game-changer for our team, successfully increasing the watercooler moments that are so important to us. Since implementing Kumospace, we’ve seen a marked increase in the frequency of chance encounters, leading to more innovative ideas and solutions. Our team has been so impressed with the platform that we’ve moved most of our meetings onto it.

Virtual Office platforms offer an exciting new way to build community and foster creativity. As a fully remote company, exploring new tools and strategies for promoting collaboration and innovation among remote teams is essential. I’m excited to see how this technology will continue to evolve and transform how we work, and these applications will play a significant role in shaping how we work.