Features to build a culture that sticks

The WaterCooler bot is a case where the idiom less is more actually fits. At least I think so.

I have crafted the WaterCooler bot over years. Adding features not because they were flashy, but because they brought value to my team.

My hope is that these features might bring value to you and your team too!

If you want to, you can try it for free today!

Feature overview / The 10k meter view

The aim of the WaterCooler bot is to schedule meetings between the members of your Slack workspace. I call these socials.

The process works as follows:

Compassionate scheduling

The WaterCooler bot tries hard to only schedule socials for people who are online on a given day. Being paired up for a social with someone who isn't online is a missed opportunity to get to know your peers! It automatically excludes those that are on vacation or out sick.

Some distributed teams are spread across a single city or a country. Others across different continents. As a result it's not always obvious when the best time to socialize is.

The WaterCooler bot makes an educated guess for you and your team. It takes the timezone settings of the workspace members into account. It also uses its knowledge of when people tend to be online. The WaterCooler bot aims to post the social pairings late enough that most people have had a chance to get online for the day. But early enough that there is still enough time for everyone to fit in their social before the end of the day.

Variety is the spice of life

Irrespective of how much you like someone it can get repetitive if you talk to them every single day. The WaterCooler bot does its best to ensure that you do not end up with the same person many days in a row. It's a bit like hitting shuffle on your music player. (You might be surprised to learn this is quite hard to do! Spotify had the same problem when they tried to come up with a way to shuffle our playlists).

An illustration of random matches being made This is what the match making might look like. Seemingly random, but with some order to the chaos.

Computers are quite good at generating randomness in the mathematical sense of the word. This is not actually what we want as humans. You would soon end up with the same social pairing two days in a row.

You also do not want predictability. It would be very boring if you knew that Cynthia comes after Bob, who comes after Alice.

The WaterCooler bot remembers who you have recently spoken to. It then attempts to make sure you do not end up with the same person the next couple of days. Beyond a couple of days it falls back to true randomness to make for more serendipitous meetings. This combination of structure and randomness feels quite pleasant. It combines variety and unpredictability. It feels a bit like what a socially skilled human might come up with.

Opt-in

We are all different. Some of us like socializing. Others find it exhausting and would rather not.

You can easily make the WaterCooler bot an opt-in experience. You do it by creating a #watercooler channel (secret tip: you can name it whatever you like!) in your Slack workspace and making the WaterCooler bot use that channel instead of the #general channel. Only those users who are members of your chosen channel will become part of the socials!

Privacy

My day-job is as a co-founder of a company that has as its mission to make it easier to honor your right to privacy. As such privacy is something that is close to my heart.

The WaterCooler bot collects as little information about you as it can get away with.

The WaterCooler bot only collects enough information about:

  • when you are online to determine who should, and who should not, be included in the socials, as well as when to schedule the socials
  • your past socials to ensure they don't become repetitive

The information is deleted within weeks. It is never shared with third parties. And it is all hosted on a server in Germany, a country with high standards when it comes to IT security and privacy.