April 19, 2021

Here’s a Virtual Water Cooler to Gather Around With Your Team

Justin Owings

Full-time storyteller and obsessive second-order tinkerer. I share how teams are turning imagination into remarkable outcomes — and all in MURAL. Find me somewhere in Atlanta and sometimes on Twitter.

Bring that spontaneous social interaction to your team whether you’re working remote, hybrid, or wanting to take a break from work entirely.

Are you missing that random conversation around the coffee machine with your coworkers?

You aren’t alone. 

According to a recent survey of over 400 remote workers, the No. 1 and 2 biggest frustrations of remote collaboration were:

  1. Missing that social component to teamwork (70%)
  2. The inability to collaborate on the fly — spontaneity (43%) 

Sure, remote work — or "work from anywhere" — offers all sorts of freedoms. What it doesn’t offer is the open-ended freedom to have those casual conversations with remote coworkers who just happen to be passing by. You know, the kind of conversations that have zero expectations, the kind you’d have in a break room. You can’t “run into” someone on Slack. You can’t overhear that conversation on a Zoom call. That water cooler chat about the hilarious new show on Netflix? Team bonding like that is extra hard when meetings exist for work, not chitchat.

Here’s the problem: There’s no common workspace for accidental camaraderie. There’s nowhere to go on coffee breaks — that is, to connect on a personal level with other remote employees in your company.

Except ... What if you could replace physical spaces with digital ones? Imagine a “virtual break room” — a digital sandbox to play, relax, and share everything from funny memes to news to shows you’re watching, whatever ... all while building culture and driving employee engagement regardless of time zones.

Imagine a virtual water cooler.

TL;DR:

Animated zoom in and out of the completed March Virtual Water Cooler Mural
Zooming into the completed March virtual water cooler mural.

Meet the MURAL virtual water cooler. An experiment you can try today with your team, even your entire organization. Try this April water cooler template with your team and use it as a digital place to replace the office break room. Simply create the mural from the template and invite remote team members to async conversations they would normally happen while on coffee breaks or getting a beverage — all in a mural.

Now, do you want to know what exactly is a virtual water cooler, and what this has to do with MURAL?

Read on.

What is a virtual office water cooler and what is MURAL?

What is a virtual water cooler? A virtual water cooler is an online, digital solution to the “water cooler conversation.” In a physical office, the water cooler conversation is what happens in the common physical spaces. These rooms and spaces usually have coffee machines, a water cooler (or some way to get H2O), and a refrigerator. They’re a place to take a break, eat a snack, and casually hang out with (or without) co-workers.

What is MURAL? For the unfamiliar, MURAL is a visual collaboration platform that offers teams of all types a digital canvas they can use to think visually together. Teams go to MURAL to work together visually on a shared canvas — think of this as a resizable, free-form digital whiteboard-on-steroids on which you and your team can add sticky notes, diagrams, GIFs, drawings, words, and much more. Because it’s online, teams can hop into a shared MURAL and collaborate visually together from anywhere and at any time. MURAL helps teams activate their imagination to solve all sorts of hard problems — all while having fun.

Here’s a zoomed out screenshot of our most recent, March 2021 virtual water:

A screenshot of the March water cooler we used at MURAL.
The virtual water cooler mural simply provides an open space for anyone to join — if they want. Teammates can share all sorts of things passively. It’s a simple and fun way to foster cross-team, cross-organization culture no matter how local or distributed your team may be.


An oasis with virtual water

“So you’re telling me there’s no water in this water cooler.”

Right. There’s no water, coffee, or La Croix in the MURAL water cooler. What you will find is a virtual space you can hop into and out of on your own time. Think of it as that digital watering hole for you to pick up news and information and leave thoughts of your own.

And unlike that Slack channel for all-caps #yelling — the one that’s hilarious but distracting — or that planned virtual happy hour that’s fun but feels a little “awkward turtle” … the MURAL water cooler is take-it-or-leave-it spontaneous fun.

Three close up views of sections of the March virtual water cooler mural — a cropped image of the TV & MOVIES RECS, the virtual refrigerator, and the March 2021 calendar.
Three zoomed in zones from the March virtual water cooler mural we used internally at MURAL. MURAL employees simply followed the link shared from a Slack channel and added anything they wanted to add.

You can use it however you like. For example:

  • Share those TV show and movie recommendations (Or find out what to watch!)
  • Like to read? So do your co-workers! Fill a virtual bookshelf and kickstart a casual book club
  • Fill a virtual fridge with your current favorite beverages (Miss donuts?)
  • Got something else? Pass on new icebreakers, that GIF, TikTok video, tweet, or article
  • Check a calendar to see what holidays — and company events — are coming up
  • Announce something important — personal or company news. Whatever you want
  • Share photos of your recent trip
  • Post that OSHA job safety notice … Okay, consult your laywercats first — this probably doesn’t satisfy that requirement!

At the virtual water cooler, you can leave notes and comments right on the canvas and connect with your co-workers asynchronously. A virtual water cooler in MURAL gives you that ability to learn about your teammates and build a little fun back into your distributed company.

Does virtual water cooler talk really work?

MURAListas had this to say about it (collected via … a feedback mural, of course!):

  • “Nice way to see / interact with others in the company”
  • “Liked the mix of content, from the pure fun social to the practical (eg announcements)”
  • “Love getting recommendations from our global teams”
  • “Great idea! Provided a good break in the day”

And personal favorite, “👋 Commenting as someone who is currently in his — checks watch ⌚️🧐 — third day at MURAL. And I just wanted to say I think this virtual water cooler is equal parts amazing, hilarious, and delightful.”

The March 2021 water cooler was our third experiment with this kind of mural. (There was one for October that included Halloween fun and one for December that invited folks to share holiday traditions. There was great engagement in each case!)

You can see how our water coolers evolved. In the beginning as you see in the October virtual water cooler on the left, we had no defined areas. December added something closer to blobs (but may have been more confusing than helpful).

Try the MURAL water cooler with your team members

It’s a water cooler. 🚰 

It’s an experiment. 🧪 

It’s fun. 🥳

Try it with your team. Here’s a brand new MURAL water cooler template for April 2021. Grab it and invite your team to hop in to the MURAL on their own time, poke around, and have fun. 

A link to the April Virtual Water Cooler Template in MURAL

👉 If you’re not yet a MURAL member, start a free trial right now!

How do you promote it? Here’s an example of how the watercooler mural was shared at MURAL — over Slack. I would periodically re-share the link every few days and each time new people would join it … and some “veterans” would return to see what was new. Ambitious remote employees might think of a way to periodically “remind” folks about the watercooler — just remember to keep it playful and not forced! 

No awkward turtles. 🐢

Promotion can be as simple as a Slack or Microsoft Teams announcement.

Hybrid, remote, whatever — make space for imagination!

No matter whether your team is face-to-face, fully remote, soon-to-be-hybrid, or in some other collaborative setup, having shared spaces (and common ground) for teams to come together is more important than ever. So try this experiment. Make it your own by adding your own novelties, surprises, and company culture to it — like events, news, whatever. For example, an experiment we tried was inviting team members to casually QuickTalk in the mural — and have also thought about adding an always-on video call, which you could do through Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Google Meet / hangouts.

Whatever you do, find ways to build a collaborative company culture — no matter where work happens.
Give our “virtual office water cooler” a try and let us know what you think.