Although many people enjoy the freedom of home-working, being in the office can come with perks. Primarily, it gives you more opportunity to connect with others and show off your abilities, which can lead to some career advancing moments. You might end up chatting to your colleagues or boss more often – putting yourself in line for new projects and even promotions.
It’s easy to see why remote workers may miss out on these opportunities. But with instant messaging, Slack and email popular among in-house workers too, are so-called ‘watercooler moments’ still so important?
“Social interaction and communication are the foundations for building relationships,” says Judy Bullimore, an employment specialist and career coach. “Whether it is collectively, individually, at a water cooler, or online, communication between people creates connection, and connection is what builds likeability and trust.
“Career progression works to the same principles as business, in that to sell a service or product, the consumer needs to ‘know, like and trust’ you,” she adds. “Advancing within an organisation, impressing a manager or receiving a promotion or a job offer, all require the decision-maker to know, like and trust you.”
Watercooler moments are a great way of achieving this, Bullimore explains. “It’s a more informal way to communicate, thus allowing the people there to find common ground and gain a deeper insight into you as an individual and your potential to add value,” she adds.
With the shift to remote working as a result of the pandemic, however, workers are finding new ways to recreate these informal meet-ups.
“Watercooler moments could be thought of as another form of networking, but there are other forms of networking,” says Bullimore. “These might be informal online networking where conversations sit outside of formal work structures, for example, through WhatsApp groups, Messenger or LinkedIn. There are also more formal networking structures, such as forums, organised work groups, events, conferences.”
Watercooler moments are just one of many forms of networking, so working remotely doesn’t necessarily mean people will miss out.
“For those who have shifted to home-working, communication is important, but this doesn’t mean they are disadvantaged by not being present in the office to interact directly with managers and colleagues,” says Bullimore.
“By switching the perspective, they arguably now have more of a reason to insist on communicating in different ways to ensure they are part of the conversation,” she adds. “What it does mean is that they will need to be more proactive in ensuring they are seen and heard.”
So what can remote workers do to make sure they don't miss out on opportunities that their in-office peers might have easier access to?
First, it’s important to know which people may positively influence your career progression.
“Think strategically about how best to build a relationship with them. It could be that you have an idea that you’d love to hear their thoughts on, so arranging a quick informal chat over the phone might be a good place to start,” says Bullimore.
“Maybe there are meetings, particular work streams, groups that you can be involved in? You could create a more informal online catch-up, or arrange the odd coffee meeting to discuss something in particular.”
It’s also important to take ownership over your personal career development. “Often the reason why someone has been promoted or developed within an organisation is not as much about watercooler moments, but their ability to communicate, build credibility and likeability with people that can influence decisions,” Bullimore explains.
Rather, career progression is about having good social skills, networking and understanding how to create authentic relationships with the right people.
“If you sense that these are skills that you personally could improve, or you lack confidence in building relationships, I would advise considering career coaching,” she adds. “There are really effective techniques that can help ensure staff avoid being overlooked for opportunities, and understand how they can leverage their skills and position to realise their ambitions.”
Watch: How to negotiate a pay rise