5 ways to facilitate casual encounters

Harness Technology

Last October, remote networking company Donut launched Watercooler, an extension for Slack that organizes introductions among teammates and offers hundreds of fun conversation topics to stimulate non-work-related communication. It’s been used by companies including Netflix, the New York Times, and product design platform InVision. Gather, a browser-based app used by Y Combinator and Yelp, helps simulate the real-world meeting experience. Through a customizable 2D map, staff can move around a fictional office and interact with their colleagues in real-time using virtual avatars.

Take it easy

Christina Shalley, professor of organizational behavior and human resource management at the Georgia Institute of Technology, suggests starting every meeting with casual conversation. “That’s when things come up that you might be surprised by,” she says. On days when you’re in the office, these kinds of interactions should be prioritized. Jill Perry-Smith, professor of organization and management at Emory University, actually recommends structuring in time between meetings so that small talk can blossom into something more. “Being purposeful about building that into the schedule is going to become very important,” she says.

Build Outside Connections

Chatting with acquaintances in other lines of work can help people solve problems and generate new ideas. Perry-Smith says it can be a good idea for companies to rent a desk at a collaborative workspace, even if they have their own offices, so that employees can build connections in other communities. “It is important to develop these kinds of casual relationships,” she says.