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Virtual After Work Beer: Informal Exchange in Virtual Teams

Today, our blog series on virtual collaboration is focusing on a very special but unconventional topic: after work beer. At first glance, it seems that this article might not fit to our previous blog articles – considering that they evolve around a series of tips about organization and moderation of meetings, as well as structuring everyday life in home office or the usage of virtual tools.

However – on a closer inspection, it quickly becomes clear that the virtual after work beer can be essential for dynamics and spirits within virtual teams.

Now what exactly is a virtual after work beer?

Last Friday, it happened for the first time. TEAMWILLE said “cheers” and had its first virtual after work beer: Everyone, who wanted to join, went to the fridge, got a drink, made him-/herself comfortable and entered the virtual video meeting room. Then we toasted each other cheerfully and started chatting.

Feierabendbier: Informeller Austausch bei TEAMWILLE

And what for?

Honestly, for quite a lot. We, finally, could see each other after the first couple of days working from home, exchange ideas, laugh with each other and do what colleagues normally do when they celebrate After Work: get in touch with each other on an informal level. After our first week of home office and social distancing, this ritual made us all feel connected and quite happy. It underlines the importance of informal exchange for the social framework we are in – our feeling of belonging.

Skeptics may object that informal exchange might be rather inefficient and unimportant, that it only keeps people from working and that you cannot purchase anything at all by just a positive atmosphere. However, this is extremely short-sighted. It has been proven over a long period that teams, who understand and trust each other well, perform far more efficient than others. Informal exchange is an essential factor for trust and loyalty. The supposed “burden of informality” turns out to fuel team effectiveness in the long run.

This applies both to virtual teams and to those who share an office. Virtual teams benefit from social interaction, too, but they must actively take some time and space to do so. However, they have to steer their informal exchange much more consciously, since a short chat in the coffee kitchen or a joint lunch are only hardly possible. Informal meetings do no longer come up spontaneously, as it would be the case with teams in an office. Hence, virtual teams have to pay even more attention towards creating spaces that are used for informal exchange.

How do we promote informal exchange?

There are many ways to promote informal exchange in virtual teams and organizations. The virtual after work beer, as practiced by TEAMWILLE, is just one of them. Virtual breakfast, lunch, coffee or five o’clock tea sessions can serve the same purpose. Of importance is that the team secures time and space for it within their day-to-day work. Make sure that it is explicitly detached from work orders or other professional objectives. This time slot should only serve for social interaction.

For a positive and cheerful atmosphere, we recommend using the video function, which should be standard in virtual teams anyway. It is also helpful to explicitly invite the participants to not dial in from their work desk, but rather in places that are not associated with work. Balcony, couch or living room are much better. This automatically decouples the informal meeting from a professional context.

In addition to such explicit informal meetings it could be also a good idea to reserve some space for small talk or more individual subjects as part of an official work meeting. Established and well-proven approaches are e.g. check-ins and check-outs at the beginning or end of a meeting.

In times of quarantine, social distancing and obligatory home office, informal meetings among colleagues take virtual teams and their spirit on another level. Social exchange, also in virtual form, counteracts loneliness and, thus, serves mental health. These days, the virtual after work beer becomes even more important!

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