By Chris Nial
In a world where there are so many ways to connect, how do people really connect – human being to human being? I found myself thinking about this on my way to work this morning. I’ve had a chance to visit many different work cultures in many different countries, and what I find is that no matter where in the world I am, in every work place there is always a “water cooler” – that is, a place or space that people stand around to swap their news and views. On a side note, I always find it amusing that the phrase “standing around the water cooler” has made its way into common global parlance, even though it originated as a uniquely American workplace tradition!
Either way, I thought it might be interesting to find the equivalents of the “water cooler” around the world. For instance, in India “chai time” is when people stop work, sip tea, and take a moment to connect with their colleagues. The amazing thing about “chai time” is that you’ll find this in any Indian office – big or small, modern or traditional. In the swanky multinationals, an office boy will make the rounds with tiny plastic cups of hot tea. In other Indian work places, people will take a break and go outside to a nearby “dhabba” or street-side stall where tea is mixed with spices, boiled in a steel pot, and served in small glasses (along with samosas, omelette sandwiches, or an instant noodle called “Maggi”). As anybody familiar with doing business in India will tell you, nothing is ever signed or agreed upon until both parties have sipped tea together!
In Japan, the water cooler takes a slightly different shape – communal Jacuzzis and spas are where colleagues go to connect after a hard day’s work, or even as a mid-day break. And in London, we head to the local pub and gossip with our co-workers over a pint of beer.
Of course, in the 21st century workspace, where remote teams are so common, we often don’t have the luxury of being able to chat face to face. No need to despair—there are many virtual equivalents of the water cooler (though not all are as informal). Collaborative workspaces such as Google Docs, Microsoft Office Live, Podio, and Zoho allow for timeless and spaceless connections with our multi-continental colleagues. And of course, lest we forget, there is always Facebook!