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You’ve heard of watercooler interactions. If you work in a corporate job, you’re probably familiar with social hours and bonding events at the office. And most likely, you have even been on a coffee chat or two. 

What is a coffee chat though (and why is coffee so associated with office culture, anyway)?

Created in the mid-1950s for the Pan-American Coffee Bureau, the slogan “give yourself a coffee-break” ushered in a new era for the American workplace, with coffee becoming ubiquitous for office break culture. 

A coffee chat, on the other hand, hearkens back to this notion with a clever twist. The idea: You meet with another person – over coffee, tea, snack, or another beverage – and have a conversation, typically outside of the office. It can be as long as it would take for you to drink your cup, or longer, depending on the context of the conversation. It is also less formal than a 1:1 meeting, but more structured than a watercooler talk.

A woman in a wheelchair is waving to her laptop during a virtual coffee chat. She has a cup of coffee next to her.

A coffee chat takes on a different meaning in a remote work environment. How do you replicate the informality and camaraderie of a coffee chat, especially if you’re unable to meet in person?

Just because we can’t break bread or physically enjoy coffee together, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t relish the perks of those experiences. Coffee chats are a valuable tool for remote work – here’s why. 

3 reasons why coffee chats are valuable for work

There are many perks of coffee chats for remote work. Bottom line? Encouraging and setting up a foundation for virtual coffee chats to occur can have a big impact on remote culture. Coffee chats can:

1. Foster an inclusive culture

Start with your environment. Teams that struggle with inclusion likely have communication issues – with the majority of these problems stemming from leadership. Team members that work for managers that aren’t committed to inclusion are likely to not feel like they belong, making them more likely to feel excluded at work. 
By incorporating coffee chats, you can help team members feel that sense of belonging, as well as branch out and speak to people they may not typically speak to.

2. Facilitate friendships and mentorship on your team

Coffee chats aren’t just a great way to start building trust among your team. These conversations can also set up meaningful relationships for individual members. Whether it’s simply friendship or mentorship, these types of relationships are invaluable for business outcomes and company culture.

3. Spark new ideas for your company culture

Anything that exists in a vacuum will eventually become stagnant. That’s why having coffee chats, especially with people outside your organization, is a win-win situation: For more junior employees, this can help them stand out and reach that next level quicker in their role. For more senior employees and leadership, this can help break through any roadblocks in projects or larger strategy initiatives. Perhaps there is partnership you can tap into, or ways to incorporate what other leaders are doing. 
It can also help with your team’s professional development. You can get your team members to learn more about their craft and industry and take those learnings back into their own roles. There could even be setting up your team member for a career opportunity later down the line. 

A woman wearing glasses is speaking while she is on a virtual coffee chat. She is holding a cup of coffee in her hand.

How to prepare for a coffee chat 

Consider your objectives for the coffee chat

If you are the person that set up the coffee chat, consider the objectives you may have for the conversation.

Perhaps you’ve set up a networking call with a marketing leader, and you want to learn how to effectively report marketing metrics. Maybe you’re speaking with a team member you’ve peripherally worked with in the past, but want to get to know on a more personal level. 

What do you want to have accomplished by the time the conversation wraps up?

Brainstorm questions

Be sure to make some time for reflection and research before the conversation. Then, you can brainstorm questions you would like to ask and how you can best structure your time. 

The great thing about virtual coffee chats is that no one can see any notes you may have in advance of the meeting. If you’re feeling apprehensive about the conversation, feel free to use any of the following conversation starters to either break the ice or get right to business:

  • What is the number one place in the world you’d love to visit?
  • How did you get interested in engineering?
  • What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned in your career so far?

Follow up and keep the conversation going

A great conversation is nothing without additional follow-up, especially if your objectives are to create a new working partnership or find a strong mentor in your field. 

Following up doesn’t need to take a long time. A quick email thanking them for their time goes a long way. You can also suggest another time to meet. If you want to keep them in your network, you can add them on LinkedIn as well.

How to have a virtual coffee chat 

Do you want to start encouraging virtual coffee chats among your team?

There are many ways to incentivize coffee chats as a remote manager and leader. Consider offering small gift cards to local coffee shops as a way to get started, or making introductions for your team members as well. You can also utilize tech tools like Slack apps.

Coffee Talk by Airspeed uses AI to match colleagues and set up virtual coffee chats. Team members first indicate how often they want a match for a coffee chat and who they’d like to speak to. Then, the app matches them with other people based on their profile and specified interests. To top it all off, you can schedule a meeting right in the app, making it as seamless as walking over to someone’s desk and asking for a chat. 

Level up your remote culture with virtual coffee chats. You may be surprised at how these informal conversations go a long way in bringing your team together – and lead to better business results. 

Start your next virtual coffee chat with Coffee Talk by Airspeed. Install to Slack for free.

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