It’s very easy to assume that conflict in the workplace can only occur when employees are face to face. But that’s definitely not the case as conflicts can arise working within a team – in-person or not!
This has become more prevalent since the outbreak of the Coronavirus with many businesses being forced to work from home, bringing ‘remote disputes’ into sharper focus. Whilst working remotely there is a high risk of conflict becoming unmanageable due to issues being avoided, going unnoticed or simply because communication channels have broken down.
Unfortunately, unresolved workplace conflict can have a detrimental effect on mental health and wellbeing for those employees involved. Longer-term this may result in significant business costs and reduced productivity, not to mention the considerable time, energy and resources spent trying to resolve the issue.
In this guide we’ll explain how remote conflict can happen and how to prevent issues happening and resolve them early, to help keep your teams happy and productive in the workplace.
What causes remote conflict in the workplace?
Workplace conflict can happen for a variety of reasons. People can fall out over management styles, personality clashes and much more. But there are certain aspects of remote working that can bring specific challenges.
Communication is completely different when working remotely. There is no physical face-to-face interaction, with most employee communications happening via email, video conference calls or messaging platforms. Yet so much of our communication comes from our body language and facial expressions.
Who hasn’t misinterpreted a text in their day to day life? It’s easy to type a message and not realise the impact that message could have on the recipient. For example, someone may think a short message from their colleague, void of the usual emojis could mean the sender is angry with them.
And while video conferencing goes some way to help, I’m sure we’ve all struggled with a touch of Zoom fatigue. This is because it’s more challenging to read someone’s body language online than it is face-to-face, making it easy to miss signals that would ordinarily tell you how your message has been received.
Another potential problem can be a slow internet connection, making conversation delayed or intermittent, resulting in vital information being missed. This can all lead to people giving up in frustration or feeling disengaged.
In addition, remote working removes the opportunity for relationships to grow through the art of informal communication, which is key in building relationships and most importantly trust!
The Coronavirus has affected us all with sudden changes, restrictions on movement and limitations of both work and social interaction which can lead to feelings of isolation. On top of this there are health worries of family and friends, as well as the impact the virus will have on job security and the economy.
This has the potential to affect your employees in different ways, especially if they are juggling work with childcare or other caring responsibilities, or if they are living alone. There may be feelings of resentment towards colleagues who they might perceive as having an easier time, especially if they have been on furlough.
All of these challenges have the potential to reduce our capacity to deal with conflict in a healthy way.
Top tips for managing remote disputes
1. Frequent communication
As mentioned earlier misinterpreting conversation is one of the biggest causes of remote conflict within teams.
If conflict does bubble to the surface, tell your employees not to reach for the keyboard, it is much better to pick up their phone or use a video call instead. This gives both parties the opportunity to hear each other’s tone and reduces the risk of miscommunication. Moreover, if video is used, they will see visual cues that may otherwise have been missed.
Remind them to talk with that person and not at, make sure they listen to what the other person is saying by not interrupting them halfway through their reply.
2. If you sense conflict, ask
As a manager if you sense conflict brewing it’s important to ask, because the longer you leave it the worse it will get. Additionally, there may be more ‘quiet’ individuals in your team who wouldn’t speak unless asked, which could eventually lead to feelings of resentment.
It’s important not to be blunt in your approach to addressing conflict, questions like these might help you sensitively broach the subject:
- I sense you’re not in full agreement, am I right?
- Will this create any problems for you?
- How does this fit in with your other responsibilities?
If you have a positive workplace culture your teammates should feel safe answering these questions, meaning you can nip any conflict in the bud before anything serious happens.
3. Always put a positive spin on things
As it’s difficult to detect tone in written communications, if your team member receives a blunt email try reframing any of their negative assumptions in a positive way.
Encourage your employees to think that maybe the sender was having a bad day, or they were buried in a particularly tedious report and just wanted to send a quick response.
And if you haven’t previously, it’s worth training your team on how to send positive written communications. For a start make it known that they shouldn’t send messages whilst angry or stressed. Give them the reassurance and permission that they can take the time they need to send back a thoughtful, articulate response that cannot be misinterpreted.
4. Always get a seal of approval
And lastly if you’re in a meeting or having a conversation with a colleague via video call or messaging it can often be difficult to get a ‘feel’ of what is going on.
Before everyone signs off or ends the conversation make sure everyone is in agreement with the upshot of what was discussed, whether verbally or in text format, to ensure there’s no conflict further down the line.
How citrus HR can help
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