Virtual Watercoolers: A Field Experiment on Virtual Synchronous Interactions and Performance of Organizational Newcomers
62 Pages Posted: 1 Jun 2021
Date Written: May 28, 2021
Do virtual, yet informal and synchronous, interactions affect individual performance outcomes of organizational newcomers? We report results from a randomized field experiment conducted at a large global organization that estimates the performance effects of “virtual water coolers” for remote interns participating in the firm’s flagship summer internship program. Findings indicate that interns who had randomized opportunities to interact synchronously and informally with senior managers were significantly more likely to receive offers for full-time employment, achieved higher weekly performance ratings, and had more positive attitudes toward their remote internships. Further, we observed stronger results when the interns and senior managers were demographically similar. Secondary results also hint at a possible abductive explanation of the performance effects: virtual watercoolers between interns and senior managers may have facilitated knowledge and advice sharing. This study demonstrates that hosting brief virtual water cooler sessions with senior managers might have job and career benefits for organizational newcomers working in remote workplaces, an insight with immediate managerial relevance.
Keywords: remote work, virtual water coolers, social interactions, performance, careers, field experiment
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