In the world of office life, it’s hard to underestimate the importance of “water cooler talk.” Whether it actually occurs at the water cooler or elsewhere is beside the point: the real value is in the casual, balanced communication it fosters. The metaphorical “water cooler” is where employees connect, build relationships and swap ideas that might never have seen the light of day in more formal settings. In one study, researchers found this type of talk also increases enjoyment in otherwise routine tasks, which can have major implications for team morale.
When your team is working out of a physical office, it’s easy to take water cooler talk for granted. Simply by design, the office offers countless opportunities for casual conversation and the teamwork that stems from it. But with the shift to remote work, replicating that dynamic has been an uphill battle. In one survey, 75% of employees said that since working from home, collaboration has suffered more than any other aspect of their work. Not surprisingly, the issues that affect employees quickly impact the entire organization. In the same survey, 43% of C-suite responders said that employees working remotely caused their companies to delay major campaigns, launches or other initiatives. Why? A lack of communication, and an increase in silos, were a big part of the problem.
Challenges aside, remote work isn’t expected to go anywhere. In one study, 66% of founders were reconsidering their investments in physical offices entirely. Meanwhile, 49% of remote workers in a recent Gallup poll said they’d like to continue working remotely. These trends, and the challenges of remote work adoption, beg the question: where’s the water cooler now?
The Rise of the Digital Water Cooler
With the rise of remote work, the space for collaboration has shifted online. One of the earliest platforms to take off during the COVID-19 pandemic was Zoom. (The now-ubiquitous video call tool posted more profit from May to July 2020 than in all of 2019.) But another fast-growing collaboration tool is giving Zoom’s user numbers a run for their money: Microsoft Teams.
In March 2020, Microsoft Teams had 44 million daily users. That number might sound impressive—until you see the statistics from just one month later. By April, 75 million users were logging into Teams daily. Fast-forward to November, and that number eclipsed 115 million. In all, Microsoft Teams has grown by a staggering 894% since the start of the pandemic.
Just which organizations are using the platform? At that growth rate, it’s a lot more, and a lot more varied, than you might think. More than 90 of the Fortune 100 companies are using Microsoft Teams, but so are a growing number of small businesses. Even the education sector is flocking to the digital collaboration platform, to the tune of 18,3000+ institutions. And judging by the stymied growth of alternatives like Slack, Microsoft Teams is also gaining users that have tried out—but failed to stick with—business communication platforms in the past.
Enhance Communication and Collaboration With Teams
Video meetings. File storage. One-to-one chat. Group chat. A seemingly endless list of apps. When you’re busy running a business, mastering Microsoft Teams can feel a bit daunting. (And did we mention that Microsoft is constantly rolling out new features?) But whether you’re already “all in” with Teams or haven’t used it despite your O365 subscription, a few best practices can quickly take your productivity to the next level. Use the comprehensive list of pro tips below, all battle-tested by REAL’s remote teams, to increase your Teams prowess.
- Use “@” + [insert coworker’s name] to notify a person of a conversation they should be part of. Use “@” + [insert group name] to notify an entire group.
- Use tags to automate your notifications. To do this, right-click a team name. Go to “Manage Tags” and choose “Create a Tag.” Then, add the names of the people who should be notified when you use that tag.
- Add tabs for shared metrics, websites, notes and other important resources. This lets you perform key tasks without navigating out of the Teams window—a major time saver.
- Use gifs to keep it light. Just hover over a message and click the “Gif” button. (Hint: it’s right next to the “Emoji” button, which will also add some personality to your message.)
- Survey the group in real time. Click the “Forms” button below your message to create a poll rather than merely typing out your question. Use options like “multiple answers” and “keep results anonymous” to customize the poll to your needs. Once you click “Send,” you’ll see the results in real time.
- Use Microsoft’s search tool to find exactly what you’re looking for, across all your conversations. Sort search results by “People” or “Files” via the top tabs. (You can also use shortcuts like /calendar and /activity to quickly locate the information you need.)
- In video calls, blur your background to make any working environment comfortable for a meeting. Just click the “…” button at the bottom of your video call and select “Blur my background.”
- Save a message so you don’t forget to respond. Hover over the message and then click the “…” button. You’ll see “Save This Message” at the very top. To pull up your saved messages, just type /Saved into the main search bar at the top of your Teams window.
- Create an organization-wide team. Navigate to your teams list. Then, click “Join or Create a Team.” Select “Build a Team From Scratch,” click the “Org-Wide” button and give your new team a name.
- Mark a message “urgent.” Click the exclamation point at the bottom of your message box. Once you click “Send,” the person will get notifications every two minutes (either for 20 minutes or until he/she reads it).
- Break down language barriers using Teams’ message translation, which supports 36 languages. At the top of the message, select “More Options.” Then, click “Translate” to see the message in the language you’ve set as your Teams’ default.
- Record your meetings by choosing “Record” from your control panel. You can also use Microsoft Stream to transcribe the meeting for times when rewatching and re-listening aren’t enough.
- Use Together Mode to put all meeting attendees on a single background. You’ll almost feel as though you’re sitting in one auditorium (well, almost). When you’re on your call, click the “…” and select “Together Mode.”
- Whiteboard with your team members. When you’re in a meeting, click the “Toggle Sharing Bar.” Then, choose the whiteboard to doodle, jot down key concepts or create digital “sticky notes” for all your attendees to see.
- Share and sync your Teams files directly to your desktop for easy accessibility, even when you’re offline. (This one requires Microsoft SharePoint; check out Microsoft’s tutorial here.) You can also download the Teams app to stay “in the know” while you’re on the go.
As more organizations embrace remote work, there’s no shortage of technology to help enhance productivity and create a digital forum for that all-important “water cooler talk.” Let REAL’s Remote IT experts help you solve your technology challenges, whether they involve security, end user services, app development, network administration or making the most of platforms like Microsoft Teams.