While it may no longer take the traditional form of a glugging five-gallon jug next to a stack of cone-shaped paper cups, the “water cooler” is finding its way back into the office. Often referred to as “hydration stations,” “refresh areas,” or “water bars,” today’s water cooler spaces offer benefits you may not have thought of.
Organizations are beginning to understand that in a world of virtual connections, informally gathering and socializing in person—while also fulfilling a common physical need—can lead to increased happiness, well-being, engagement, and productivity at work.
More specifically, there are five main reasons every office should have a water cooler:
1. Staying Hydrated
While it may seem obvious that water coolers offer parched workers thirst quenching relief, there are more physical benefits attached. Hydrated workers tend to be healthier, as water helps the body flush out contaminants, aid digestion and respiration, lubricate joints, produce hormones, and manufacture neurotransmitters for movement and other functions. According to Psychology Today, proper hydration can also help with focus and cognitive performance, including short- and long-term memory.
2. Encouraging Movement
A water cooler space nudges people to get up and move around. Even short bursts of movement throughout the day help to keep circulation and metabolism going. According to a Haworth research brief on the Workspace Nudge™, static postures can harm the body. Environments that promote regular movement allow our bodies to perform the way they were designed—to move. This can help prevent physical injury and discomfort. And when our bodies are comfortable, our brains function better, which is especially essential for knowledge workers.
3. Building Relationships with Team Members
While email, social media, and other digital technology have enabled us to be more virtually connected, it can sometimes feel like they minimize personal connection. A water cooler space allows people to have the real, live face-to-face interactions that we, as human beings, crave—helping employees feel more like part of the team and combating loneliness. The water cooler’s casual atmosphere of happenstance also helps to close the communication gaps between employees and management, as well as those that can come with having four very different generations at work together. People find common ground in the simple need for hydration, which leads to serendipitous meetings and conversations that open doors to communication, collaboration, trust, and better working relationships.
4. Sparking Conversations
The water cooler of old brings to mind conversations of “who shot J.R.?” and other burning questions of back in the day. Today, pop culture still finds its way to water cooler chat, but it often leads to discussions of topics like yesterday’s collaborative brainstorming session and the goals for tomorrow’s presentation—not to mention suggestions for process improvements, solutions for budget issues, and ideas for next year’s product line. People may not know who they will bump into, nor are they planning out their water cooler conversations ahead of time. Water cooler chat is just an amazing phenomenon that happens off-the-cuff, which is what sparks some of the best, most productive conversations.
5. Increasing Creativity and Innovation
Water cooler spaces allow people to “bump into” one another, encouraging conversations and supporting relationships that may not have otherwise come about. These serendipitous interactions—or “collisions” as some call them—between a variety of workers bring new viewpoints, knowledge, and ideas to the mix. According to the Haworth white paper Optimizing the Workplace for Innovation, even casual conversations can allow our minds to wander into new areas and explore, enabling us to stumble upon new information and make connections that are responsible for a-ha moments. Without time and space to engage the imagination, people can miss out on insights that lead to creativity and innovation.
“If a building doesn’t encourage [collaboration], you’ll lose a lot of innovation and the magic that’s sparked by serendipity.”
Offering a water cooler space at work—and a leadership team that advocates the use of it—can create a nudge toward behaviors that support health, happiness, and human connection at work. Learn about some more simple nudges that can help people stay healthy, engaged, and productive at work in Haworth’s Workspace Nudge white paper.