Breaking silos in isolation

My partner and I were discussing the impact COVID-19 and working from home is having on our work relationships. He was sharing how the ‘water cooler conversations’ and the benefits of those can’t really happen in a work-from-home environment. Those random, unplanned chats can often be one of the ways in which information flows between departments, collaboration ideas spark and organisational culture thrives. In other words, they can contribute to breaking organisational silos.

So how can we create a ‘water cooler’ effect in a remote working environment?

When our team started working from home in March 2020, we put in place three processes to help us continue to collaborate, exchange, socialise and bond as a team. These were:

  • 1. Daily standups: The first step we took was to organise a ‘daily standup’, i.e. a brief virtual catch up at the start of every day for everyone to share their actions, asks (i.e. help needed of others) and blockers (i.e. what’s getting in the way). This has meant that our team has continued to ‘see’ each other everyday and we’ve remained aware of the priorities we’re all working on and the help we might be needing. There is also plenty of social chatter to begin our ‘standups’, and friendly banter along the way.

  • 2. Online chat platform: We registered to Slack, a business communication platform, and effectively switched from emailing to instant messaging. We created a range of channels related to our operations and projects, but also a channel for learning and growing. This platform has allowed us to discuss practically in ‘real time’, create a history of communications that is easily accessible and searchable, and make our discussions viewable by more people than only ‘those typically standing at the water cooler’. With the addition of a few animated images here and there, and a channel for random awesomeness, we’ve created a place where ‘fun’ also happens.

  • 3. Team meetings focussing on ‘us as a team’: Last but not least, we have consciously introduced topics in our team meetings that help us discuss who we are and want to be as a team. For example, we have talked about our motivations, our definition of success, our strengths. We will also be looking at our values and how they come to life in our day-to-day.

My colleague was sharing with our team that she’s felt more informed and involved than ever before since working from home. The above are definitely the cause of this. 

Now, I acknowledge that these three steps can have a faster and deeper impact on a small organisation like ours than in a business with hundreds of staff. But I think aspects can be integrated at various levels of any organisation to generate greater cross-divisional transparency, team spirit and even innovation. We’ve got to create opportunities for our people to ‘come together’ - whether it be for informal or formal chats. Absent of the water cooler, perhaps the secret is in looking at how we can make technology in service of our team’s needs.

Kim Larochelle

Kim joined The Helmsman Project as a volunteer when it first started delivering programs in 2013. In January 2014, she became one of the organisation's first two employees and is now CEO. She has had the privilege, along with the team, to witness and support The Helmsman Project's growth.

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