Small talk can build huge teams.
In a recent study by Atlassian, healthy teams reported they felt like they belonged and their ideas were supported, leading to higher levels of engagement and fewer instances of burnout. And the answer to building these healthy teams? You probably guessed it already—small talk.
But is it important for remote teams, where arguably these moments have to be manufactured in lieu of the physical watercooler?
Yes. The benefits of small talk aren’t limited by the location of the employees and in fact, small talk plays a more important role in remote workplaces.
But first, what is small talk? (And what it’s not)
Small talk is characterized by light and breezy conversation, typically avoiding important or controversial topics. So you may have been subject to the occasional “How was your weekend?” or “It’s freezing out there” but it’s important to note that the definition of small talk and how it’s understood culturally varies.
In the US, small talk is a big part of the workplace culture. It’s considered essential to develop a great bond between teammates, have a great working relationship with managers, and win over vendors and clients.
On the other hand, most Swedes, Fins, and Norwegians don’t appreciate small talk because it’s not a part of their culture.
Coming to the actual content of small talk, an HBR article recommends shying away from politics, religion, or anything divisive and there are companies that have banned this exact thing. Yet others encourage a healthy discourse on all things that affect their employees.
When it comes to what small talk is—it’s best left to individual policies and what’s in the best interest of employees. However, bear in mind that small talk shouldn’t be used as a means to gossip. Gossiping at work can hurt morale and even lead to huge employee turnover.
More small talk promotes employee well-being
A study of 151 full-time workers revealed that “small talk was uplifting.” Participants completed 3 surveys a day for 15 consecutive workdays and rated their emotions, productivity, and overall engagement.
“On days workers made more small talk than usual, they experienced more positive emotions and were less burned out.” -Jessica R. Methot, Associate Professor at Rutgers University and co-author of the study.
For remote workers that primarily work out of their home–limiting their contact with other working professionals–small talk can alleviate some of the negative impacts of remote work such as loneliness and burnout.
Mandatory fun makes teams feel more connected
Teams that don’t engage in scheduled social gatherings struggle to adapt to remote work and feel less connected.
A study by INSEAD of more than 500 global professionals working remotely showed that the teams that thrived made time for “mandatory fun”—hosting quizzes, shared playlists, book recommendations, and movie clubs.
Set aside some time every week for the entire team to get together for virtual hangouts. You can also pair up employees at random to re-create the watercooler moment and spark conversations.
Shooting the breeze builds a positive team culture
The study of 151 workers found that supervisors who create space for small talk benefit from increased creativity, inclusion, and collaboration.
That’s key to building a positive team culture which in turn leads to more productivity, higher engagement rates, and speeds up the time to productivity for new hires.
You can set the right example for your team in a few ways.
- Before you start virtual meetings, make way for some friendly chat. Start with asking how everyone’s weekend was or how they’re feeling about work.
- You can also let employees share how they’re feeling and encourage conversations in the chat.
- When new hires go through their onboarding, encourage existing employees to set the right tone and make them feel welcome by inviting new hires to informal chats.
Social chitchat drives psychological safety
When Dr. Amy Edmondson was studying clinical teams and the number of mistakes that different teams made, her research revealed that teams producing better outcomes consistently made more mistakes compared to teams with fewer good outcomes. Upon further investigation, Dr. Edmondson found that “teams with better outcomes were admitting more mistakes, whilst the teams with fewer good outcomes were more likely to hide theirs.”
As a result, Dr Edmondson codified psychological safety as an important workplace concept—”the belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes, and the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking.”
Without creating a culture that allows for mistakes, naive questions, and wild ideas, businesses steer themselves to failure.
Small talk within teams can change that. Small personal disclosures build trust among coworkers. Ultimately when disagreements arise, they can speak up and disagree productively – leading to a better outcome.
Managers and team leaders should incorporate these learnings in team meetings and lead by example, making it easy for everyone else on the call to open up as well.
Just 5-minutes of intentional small talk can lead to higher productivity rates
A recent study in Language and Speech found that small talk raises productivity levels. The study looked at transcripts of 69 conversations to identify both work-related and “off-task” communications and revealed that when highly engaged two-way conversations occur, higher levels of task enjoyment and productivity follow.
But to enjoy the benefits of small talk, you don’t have to go too deep or turn it into a marathon chat fest. Just 5 minutes of small talk at the beginning of meetings can have a huge impact.
Companies are using Airspeed to reap the benefits of small talk. Employees use the platform to gain helpful insight on coworkers, such as what they did over the weekend or their hobbies. Airspeed makes it easy to kick off meetings with genuine, quality rapport – which in turn, makes meetings more enjoyable and productive.
Want to learn how? Get in touch to cure digital disconnect.