Employee Engagement Past and Present: More in Common Than Different

Last updated: Jan 17, 2023

“Any plans this weekend?” “That was some game last night!” The concept of “water-cooler talk” serves a beneficial purpose. Of course, I’m speaking of those friendly, non-job-related conversations that spring up at work. Some of my most-treasured memories have been impromptu talks with co-workers in the hallway—or in the break room as I waited for my food to come out of the microwave. These types of experiences go a long way toward employee engagement—an important benchmark for a leader to fulfill.


Like so many others, working from home has emphatically altered the way our team collaborates—not just professionally, but as friendly colleagues. To compensate for the loss of in-person interaction, we’ve deliberately instituted a weekly social video call the whole team is expected to attend. Topics vary and bounce all around, covering just about anything—as long as they’re not work related. When one of us accidentally talks shop, we throw a virtual yellow flag—in good fun—to point out the infraction.


Employees engaging with one another in a work meeting.

Whether we’re talking about the quirks of a first car, swapping treasured family recipes, or confessing to parenting challenges, there’s always a measure of shared laughter, interest, and concern. Because the entire team is on the call, this particular meeting has inspired some camaraderie that maybe didn’t exist prior to remote work. We’ve learned more about one another. As a leader, this is a good takeaway. Look to create opportunities—in-person or remotely—that encourage similar interactions.


Like the encounter at the water cooler, this online social hour is a chance to pause from work demands and receive a dose of emotional refreshment. And while my preference is to be with the team in person, I’m grateful for the platforms that allow me to see those smiling faces, to hear those familiar voices. As peculiar as it is to exclusively participate with the team from a computer camera, the priority of engagement is, for now, adequately met.


It’s amazing to think almost a year has passed since our entire team has been in the same space. The pandemic’s effects continue to discourage a full return to our collective work environment. So we’ll continue to see and hear each other through the technological means that unite us. It’s always essential to cultivate employee engagement but even more so in these peculiar times. It lets team members know they’re not alone. It lets them know they matter.