In the era of hybrid working, companies are looking for ways to recreate the break room experience associated with a physical office. With the right technology and a little imagination, you can create a virtual break room that people will naturally gravitate towards, to socialize and take a pause from thinking and doing.
- A virtual break room re-creates ‘water cooler’ conversation for remote workers online.
- They are important for socializing, company culture, employee wellbeing and even productivity.
- There’s no one-size-fits-all virtual break room. Try out coffee mornings, meditation sessions, or even pet parades and see what your employees benefit from the most.
- Take care of the practical considerations, including scheduling virtual breaks on days and at times that work with the rhythm of the workforce – not against it.
What is a virtual break room?
A virtual break room is a dedicated online meeting space where remote workers can chat informally via video. Think of it as mimicking a break room in a physical office, for instance a communal kitchen or sofa area. Virtual break rooms can be created using Zoom, Microsoft Teams and other video meeting platforms.
Why are virtual break rooms important?
To encourage social bonding and nurture company culture
Recreating the water cooler chat that teammates in physical office spaces enjoy, is vital for team bonding. Humans are social creatures by nature, with a strong need to belong. This need can’t be satisfied by project-oriented meetings alone. Everyone knows the importance of company culture. Just because a company may now be working primarily remotely, or in a hybrid format, it doesn’t mean that need has disappeared. A virtual break room is a great way to allocate time and space for people to get to know each other’s personalities, hobbies, and a little about their life outside of work.
To promote good mental health
This relates to the above point. Humans are simply not designed to be alone all day! Connecting with others is vital to ward off feelings of loneliness and isolation, which lead to low mood and even depression if left unchecked for too long.
Chatting with our peers can also help to reduce stress and give us an energy boost if we’re having a sluggish moment. It’s for this reason that it’s always advisable to break up long meetings with short, social breaks; whether those meetings are in-person or online. Participants return from their break refreshed and more engaged than before.
Virtual break rooms are actually good for productivity
The idea that you have to be ‘always on’ to stay productive is long outdated. We’ve already established that being ‘always on’ leads to poor mental health, which in turn causes productivity to slump. When teammates take a break, and use that time to connect with each other, it actually becomes easier to work with each other. There’s more trust and less awkwardness. People feel more comfortable getting straight to the point and taking risks, which can improve efficiency and outcomes. In the era of hybrid working, virtual break rooms are employers’ secret weapon for productivity. And when productivity increases, company profits increase too.
Great virtual breakroom ideas
When it comes to creating a virtual breakroom, you can be broad or specific in terms of your theme. General ideas such as coffee mornings are perfect for mass appeal, while more entertainment based ideas bring people together around areas of common ground, like being a parent of loving soccer. Below are some ideas to get your creative juices flowing…
General breakroom ideas
Virtual coffee morning
A virtual break room space that operates over specific hours in the morning, so people can come together to have their first (or maybe second!) cup of coffee for their day. There is no set agenda for conversation in these types of break room, simply let things flow.
Virtual lunch break
Coffee mornings tend to work better than virtual lunch breaks, because people are more comfortable quietly sipping coffee than they are eating food on-screen. Especially when video devices with high performance audio pick up every crunch and munch! However there’s no harm in having a virtual lunch break where people can come and hang out once they’ve finished eating!
Virtual afternoon break
Post-lunch is the time of day when many of us experience an energy slump. So a virtual break room at this time can help rejuvenate a weary team. Just like the coffee morning, no set agenda for conversation is required.
If your company is large, consider the possibility that your breakroom might get very busy. When this happens it can actually inhibit interaction, because there are too many people in the room for conversation between multiple participants to be practical. Overcome this challenge by creating different virtual break rooms for different teams, which naturally caps the number of people who can participate. Or by investing in specialized virtual breakroom platforms, such as Hallway. More about that below.
Entertainment based breakroom ideas
Hobbies and interests
Creating a break room that has a much-loved hobby or interest as the focus is an effective way to ensure that people come, try it out, and come back again! Some popular ideas include:
- Book club, where members can decide amongst themselves which books they would like to read and discuss, together.
- Parenting is also a popular theme, serving as a starting point for conversation, which can later flow organically into other topics.
- Sports / music for all the soccer lovers and air guitarists out there.
Something we all have in common is the need for rest and relaxation, especially if we’ve been busy fielding emails, or in back-to-back meetings for the best part of the day. A virtual R&R break room is a place where any activity that promotes calm can be enjoyed together in a group, examples include:
- Breathing techniques, such as the ‘box breath’ technique, that helps the body to unwind and let go of stress.
- Chair yoga, where people can stretch and iron out aches and pains, and learn about ways to correct their posture while sitting at their desk.
- Meditation, to give overactive brains a chance to ‘do nothing’, along to gentle music that supports the restorative mood.
Any form of exercise that can be done at home is a contender for a virtual fitness break room. Not everyone has a lot of space to work with, and specialist equipment is off the cards, but that still leaves plenty of options:
- Cardio e.g. star jumps, jogging on the spot.
- Strength training e.g. press-ups, plank.
- A blend of styles.
Not everyone takes to this kind of ‘organized fun’, but if there are enough people in your company who appreciate trivia and general knowledge then give the virtual quiz a whirl. Depending on the interests of participants, you can go broad and inclusive with the kinds of questions you ask, or go niche around specialist topics. Whichever approach you choose, remember prizes are always a great motivator!
Many of these entertainment based virtual break rooms need someone to facilitate them. Someone with the right level of knowledge and the ability to confidently lead a group through an experience. You may strike gold and find this person within your company, or alternatively you can hire them from outside.
How to create a virtual break room your employees will actually use
Be clear on the theme
Let people know what to expect, for instance are you hosting a general coffee morning where all chit-chat is welcome or will participants be guided through an R&R experience? Always manage expectations to avoid disappointment.
Choose the right day and time
For a virtual break room to work it needs to be scheduled to suit the rhythm of the company. For instance, Mondays are typically a day where people prefer to get their head down and prepare for the week. Whereas mid-week, like Wednesdays and Thursdays, people often benefit from switching up the pace; taking a moment to pause and socialize with each other. It’s also important to consider time of day and time zone. Very few people want to be on camera at 9am, let alone before, just as no-one can benefit from a virtual break room that’s only open in the early hours!
Keep it short and sweet
More people will come if they feel that the break time is a manageable length, that won’t negatively impact on their work deadlines. 15-30mins is optimal as it is long enough to meaningfully touch base with one another, but not too long you get meeting fatigue.
Provide foolproof joining instructions
Whether you are hosting your virtual break room via Zoom, Teams or another platform be sure to send clear joining instructions in your calendar invite. A picture paints a thousand words, so include screenshots that capture the step-by-step process for added clarity.
Also make sure participants understand that their virtual break room experience will only be as good as their WiFi connection. Of course, this goes for all video meetings, not just virtual break rooms. People working from home will need to check the speed of their connection, to prevent video lag.
Choose easy-to-use video platforms
The most common way to create a virtual break room is for one person who is nominated the organizer, to invite teammates to a video meeting using the video platform they are already most familiar with. For many companies this is Zoom or Microsoft Teams. An email explaining the concept is recommended ahead of the first break room experience, but from there a regular calendar invite is enough to keep the break room idea alive.
Another way is to use a platform designed specifically for hosting virtual break rooms, such as Hallway. With Hallway you can start spontaneous video breaks that the entire team can join in on or randomly pair people up 1:1 to take a short break. You can add Hallway to a Slack channel and set the frequency, scheduled times, timezone, days and working hours for breaks,
Use specialist video conferencing devices
All virtual meetings become more satisfying when you use the right hardware, and the virtual break room is no exception. Today there are all-in-one video collaboration devices that can auto-frame your face (even as you move around the room), blur out the view behind you for privacy, and block out background noise such as pets and kids – without compromising the overall audio experience.
Neat’s compact, high performance video devices do all the above and more. From our Neat Frame, perfect for individuals working remotely, to our multi-touch screen Neat Board, which is great for creative collaboration between in-office and remote teammates. All Neat devices are certified for use with Zoom and Microsoft Teams.
Don’t make it about work!
You’ve heard of K.I.S.S.? Well in this context it stands for ‘keep it social stupid’. Don’t be tempted to sneak in a competitor review or an industry news update. People are busy enough. That’s a sure fire way to ensure your virtual break room is visited once and once only.
Decide if it’s optional or mandatory
Did you know that attending a virtual break room can be optional or mandatory? The benefit of it being optional is that people only join when they feel like they have the time and headspace to do so, when they are in the mood to shoot the breeze with teammates and chill out. The downside is that some people never allow themselves breaks in their schedule. The evidence is clear, breaks are crucial to prevent burn-out. Plus they can boost productivity. However people don’t always feel like this is true, opting instead to stay on their hamster wheel. This is where the mandatory virtual break comes in, and it can be very effective in bringing people within a company together to bond and let off some steam.
When it comes to creating virtual break rooms, don’t be afraid to use your imagination and connect in new and exciting ways. To check out Neat’s award-winning video collaboration devices, such as the Neat Frame pictured above, or speak with a Neat specialist visit our website today.
The importance of taking breaks. The Wellbeing Thesis.
Fun virtual coffee break ideas. Slides With Friends.