Small talk is typically considered a waste of time, but when remote working became the norm, employees everywhere really started to miss this social ritual.

It seems this daily workplace pastime was more important than many had realized.  Through these brief conversations and shared interactions, the office becomes more than a workplace.  

The Achievers Workforce Institute conducted a survey showing how the pandemic left one-third of workers feeling disconnected from colleagues and company culture.

How to keep small talk alive while working remotely 

It’s becoming more evident that remote work is here to stay. Even after the pandemic is over, the acquired advantages of working from home might result in a hybrid work location. A mix between working from the office and home could even generate cost efficiencies. 

Still, companies should also consider developing corporate interactions. After all, a non-traditional work environment needs out-of-the-box social rituals for the digital workplace. 

Here are 4 examples of what companies and employees can do to keep in touch and spark small talk in their daily routines:   

1. Create digital spaces for casual socialization 

It can be easy to dismiss digital channels focused on socialization as mandatory corporate fun. The truth is, though, that employees need to have a space to talk about non-work-related topics. That’s particularly important for newcomers who join the company directly to a digital workplace. They end up working remotely without having a chance to adapt to the corporate culture and how teams interact. That’s why they need to feel integrated into their teams. 

A virtual environment for social gatherings is a terrific way for people to meet, share their interests, and discover things in common besides working for the same company. In the immortal words of Humphrey Boggart’s Rick Blaine in “Casablanca”, this can even be “the beginning of a beautiful friendship”. 

You could experiment with these channels and look at them as an event venue. Go beyond the standard small talk and try to hold trivia contests, happy hours, and other gatherings that can shake things up a bit and bring joy to everyone. 

2. Rephrase your usual questions for better conversations 

How many times have you replied without thinking about the question “How are you?” with a plain “Fine, thanks.”? You’re not alone. It’s common to mindlessly answer this polite question, especially at work. It’s even more common to ask it, as a courtesy, without expecting to engage in a conversation just yet. 

Still, when talking on a digital channel, chances are that conversation will die pretty quickly with a brief reply to these kinds of questions. You might even find it awkward to reopen a conversation. You’d even think maybe your colleague is too busy to talk since you can’t see them live. 

Try something different when dropping your morning ‘hellos’. Here are a few questions that encourage more engagement:  

  • What tasks are most interesting for you this week?  
  • What is one thing we could do to make this day better?  
  • What song has been on your mind in the past few days? 

Asking questions that your colleagues can’t answer with a simple yes or no is another option to get conversations rolling and engage in small talk. 

3. Make check-ins part of your meetings  

You might have your schedule filled with online work meetings. Did you ever consider scheduling a meeting for socializing with your colleagues? That could be a good way to get in the habit of checking in on everyone and sharing some small talk. Better yet, open your cam and see them live. It’ll take digital socializing to the next level. 

You could also see your meetings on two levels: the business/professional side and the human connection one. You’d get your work done and still treat others with a quick friendly conversation at a meeting’s start or end. 

Simply spending that extra five minutes for small talk shows others you see them as the human beings they are.

4. Participate in virtual random meetups   

It might be easy to chat with your teammates or coworkers with whom you used to spend most of your time. What about the rest of the team or people working in the same company? Ever heard of the Random Coffee concept? The concept creates a random match between two or three participants who can then schedule a digital meetup at their preferred time. It’s integrated into Slack, so you could easily use the chatbot. 

Many other apps offer this simple concept, and it helps to break down silos within the company. The program chooses participants randomly for meetings, providing a more inclusive platform for all participants. This way, you could get to know each other without looking for something specific in your search (being in the same department or from the same country, for example). After all, variety is the spice of life! 

Even with all these suggestions, you might still be skeptical about the benefits of small talk.  

Check these 3 benefits of small talk

  • It helps you overcome feelings of social anxiety or discomfort and work on your social skills. 
     
  • It can lay the groundwork for professional networking and further develop your career. Humans are social beings who need trust to develop and achieve higher. That’s impossible if you don’t make yourself known and try to get to know others. 
     
  • study led by Rutgers and the University of Exeter Business school provides scientific proof that small talk has a big positive impact on employees’ wellbeing.

When all is said and done, remember that we’re not all the same 

Eventually, not everyone enjoys small talk. Some can even find it exhausting. And that’s okay! A company naturally allows room for all kinds of personalities. 

Anyone should conduct the digital socializing plans discussed in this article with the opt-in experience in mind. Even extroverts might not want to engage in these social interactions because they already have too many work meetings scheduled for the day. 

Zoom fatigue is a real thing and needs to be considered as you strive to improve employees’ social engagement levels. Something as simple as small talk could go a long way to keep social bonds intact within your company. 

Be open and let employees choose how, when, and if they want to engage.