How has conflict a management changed in today’s virtual workplace?
In the era of remote work, where employees are socially removed from one another and all communication is digital, managers must rethink the way they manage conflict and workplace disruptions.
Under normal circumstances, managers can mediate disputes and conflicts in the same room with all parties present.
Today, however, resolutions must take place online. Yet this is only one of several differences between online and offline conflict management.
Below, will look at several factors that impact conflict management in the remote workplace.
Causes of Conflict in the Remote Workplace
To start, it is important to understand how remote work affects employee behavior.
Here are a few points to keep in mind:
Remote work can increase insecurity and decrease inhibitions
In an online environment, people can experience what is known as disinhibition, or, more specifically, the online disinhibition effect.
This manifests itself in actions that people would not normally take in face-to-face situations.
In part, this type of behavior may be due to higher levels of insecurity, social isolation, loneliness, and the lack of non-verbal communication. Scientists have pointed out, after all, the majority of communication is nonverbal – and without that nonverbal communication, it is easier to misinterpret or misunderstand what is being said.
Remote work and increase stress and feelings of isolation
Many surveys have shown that social isolation is one of the biggest obstacles faced by remote workers.
That isolation can lead to feelings of loneliness, stress, and other negative emotions – and those negative emotions, in turn, can increase frustration, miscommunication, and friction in the workplace.
Conflicts may take different shapes online
Online conflicts, by definition, cannot take place face to face. They may also not be overt.
Instead, they may take the form of passive aggressive behavior such as avoidance.
6 Strategies for Conflict Management in the Remote Workplace
How should managers deal with conflict between remote workers?
Here are a few strategies:
1. Communicate more than is necessary
When working from home is the norm, misinterpretation can be a problem, as noted.
To minimize miscommunications, therefore, it is often necessary to communicate more than is necessary. That is, it can be helpful to “over-communicate” and be overly clear.
Since, as mentioned, verbal cues are missing from online communication, it may be necessary to be extra clear when having discussions with online employees.
2. Reduce miscommunications by creating communication protocols
Miscommunication and difficulty collaborating are common complaints from remote workers, according to surveys by companies such as Buffer.
One way to overcome this problem is by establishing clear communication guidelines when it comes to common workflows.
In projects, for example, it can be useful to use tools that establish clear guidelines for communication and make it easy to set expectations, set clear goals, and clarify responsibilities.
Project management applications can be very useful tools in this regard, since they include a variety of communication tools, from checklists to chat features to comments and more.
3. Hold regular team meetings
Getting everyone on the same page it’s not always easy, especially when everyone operates remotely.
Having team meetings on a regular basis can help keep everyone in sync when it comes to their workflows.
Team meetings can also help mitigate the feelings of isolation, which, in turn, can reduce the potential for misinterpretation and miscommunication.
The more that teams can connect with one another, even online, the more cohesive the work culture can be.
4. Use video often
The lack of social cues, as mentioned, can be a problem and it can increase miscommunications.
While video may not be perfect, it does offer more nonverbal cues than email, chat, comments, or other text-based communications.
These cues can be vital for maintaining emotional connections with one another, so videos should be used as much as possible.
5. Be proactive about addressing conflict
When conflict occurs, it is important to address it quickly.
Gather all the facts, identify the problems, communicate with each side separately, mediate the conflict, and deescalate.
Then, after the resolution has been complete, be sure to create a goal-oriented agreement between the both parties.
6. Rethink and adjust leadership strategies has needed
No management strategy is perfect, so it is important to continually assess one’s own approach to conflict management.
Over time, as conflicts arise and our resolved, that strategy can be reevaluated as necessary.
For best results, consider documenting the conflict and the strategies used to resolve it, and even create documented conflict management strategies to use later on.
Conflict is and inevitable part of any work environment.
No matter what the situation, whether online or offline, conflicts will arise. Large or small, frequent or infrequent, these conflicts can negatively impact the team, the workplace, and the business.
It is important therefore to address them and define ways to diffuse them before they escalate and become problematic. In a remote office or a hybrid office, where nonverbal cues are harder to come by, this means paying closer attention to employees needs, their behavior, and their communication styles. An effective conflict management strategy, after all, can reduce conflict, if not prevent it before it even starts.