Virtual Water Coolers: A Field Experiment on the Role of Virtual Interactions on Organizational Newcomer Performance

42 Pages Posted: 1 Jun 2021 Last revised: 17 Feb 2023

See all articles by Prithwiraj Choudhury

Prithwiraj Choudhury

Harvard University - Business School (HBS)

Jacqueline N. Lane

Harvard Business School - Technology and Operations Management Unit

Iavor Bojinov

Harvard University - Technology & Operations Management Unit

Date Written: February 10, 2023

Abstract

Designing management practices to better onboard organizational newcomers working remotely is a key priority for firms. We report results from a randomized field experiment conducted at a large global firm that estimates the performance effects of different types of virtual interactions for remote summer interns. Findings indicate that virtual water coolers—or videoconference sessions for small groups of interns and a senior manager—may yield higher performance and career outcomes when they facilitate a demographic match between interns and senior managers or occur at regular intervals during the internship. No other virtual interactions, including an asynchronous Q&A discussion forum, an intern-only water cooler, and an intern group project, enhanced job productivity compared to the control condition. An abductive exploration of mechanisms using surveys, machine learning, and an online laboratory study suggests a tradeoff: while the virtual interactions may offer opportunities for newcomer socialization, they also introduce greater constraints on interns’ time. The relative outperformance of the senior manager virtual water cooler with a demographic match can be explained by their potential to foster improved organizational commitment among treated interns, which may have led to their higher job performance and career outcomes.

Keywords: remote work, virtual water coolers, social interactions, performance, careers, field experiment

Suggested Citation

Choudhury, Prithwiraj and N. Lane, Jacqueline and Bojinov, Iavor, Virtual Water Coolers: A Field Experiment on the Role of Virtual Interactions on Organizational Newcomer Performance (February 10, 2023). Harvard Business School Technology & Operations Mgt. Unit Working Paper No. 21-125, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3855788 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3855788

Prithwiraj Choudhury (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Business School (HBS) ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

Jacqueline N. Lane

Harvard Business School - Technology and Operations Management Unit ( email )

Boston, MA 02163
United States

Iavor Bojinov

Harvard University - Technology & Operations Management Unit ( email )

Boston, MA 02163
United States

Do you have negative results from your research you’d like to share?

Paper statistics

Downloads
1,092
Abstract Views
6,943
Rank
36,352
PlumX Metrics