Collaborating Over a Virtual Water Cooler

Creating space for mutual career support and creativity

In our unprecedented virtual environment, the age of the “water cooler chat” wanes. No longer can we ask a quick question about a project, share an idea, or talk about last night's game over a paper Dixie cup of water. Business is virtual and our conversations are changing, however, the importance of informal conversations should not be overlooked.

Virtual MBA student connection
Megann Kerr (top, left), Patrick Rosenberg (top, right) and Daniel Student (bottom) get together on Zoom regularly to keep their creativity and collaboration flowing.

As MBA candidates at the UC Davis Graduate School of Management, my peers and I often gathered in our student lounge between classes. The intimate space was bustling with the whir of the copy machine, the occasional microwave ding, and constant conversation. We asked each other questions, talked through difficult concepts, brainstormed ideas, and engaged socially.

As the conversations were unplanned and without normal workplace formalities, people could jump in from a table over or ask questions without fear of detracting from the agenda. I cannot understate the importance of a bit of laughter and levity in a world of Excel and EBITDA.

Some of my fondest memories and most impactful lessons came from those small doses of creativity and collaboration between classes. When everything turned virtual this past March, a few peers and I tried to encourage that same water cooler magic.

Driven By Curiosity

I have been lucky to work with Megann Kerr and Daniel Student on a variety of projects during our time at the GSM. Together we tackled the Mysis shrimp problem in Lake Tahoe and we joined a design thinking sprint/career trek led by Daniel.

Patrick Rosenberg and mysis shrimp
Patrick Rosenberg points on his team's sample of microscopic mysis shrimp collected from Lake Tahoe.

About a month into our virtual transition, we planned to meet weekly to provide a space for mutual career support and creativity. Akin to our student lounge days, we would always start by just chatting. This opened the door for more dynamic topics.

We asked each other questions like how will best public speaking practices change over Zoom? Or how to reorient the idea of culture fit towards diversity of opinion and background?

We were driven by curiosity and enthusiasm rather than deadlines and deliverables. Countless ideas and fascinating conversations arose out of a simple, informal, shared space. 

As our informal bond grew, we found ourselves naturally becoming something else: a team.

We continue to meet regularly, to celebrate small wins, share ideas, ask questions, and find micro-opportunities to collaborate. If you haven’t found your own virtual water cooler yet, I highly recommend creating one.