Often when we think about interpersonal conflict in the workplace, we imagine the actual workplace as the setting for the conflict. This may not be true for teams or individuals who work remotely. Believe it or not, technology has a significant impact on the way employees interact with each other, so it’s important to learn how to handle conflict between employees who work remotely.
How to Handle Conflict Between Employees
It’s common knowledge by now that cyberspace has a way of lowering human inhibition. What may not be common knowledge is that, despite there being professional expectations at work, employees who communicate through technology often suffer the same problem. When people feel less inclined to behave in socially appropriate, connected ways, conflict can spark at any moment. Ensuring that remote work and technological communication isn’t increasing the spark for conflict is an important step in preventing conflict. However, if conflict has already arrived, it’s recommended you learn how to handle conflict between employees who work remotely:
Identify Gaps in Communication
Recognizing where remote work may be prohibiting certain types of communication can help you get ahead of the problem. Certain employees may feel insecure about their ability or comfort level utilizing technology for communicating. Maybe some people don’t like seeing themselves on video conferencing or feel out of the loop on large conference calls. Perhaps two employees collaborating on a project have different ideas about how and what they should be communicating about. Getting clear on the gaps can help fill them and reduce the impact of poor communication.
Eliminate Sources of Uncertainty
Some of these suggestions are true regardless of whether your employees are working remotely or in the office. This is one of those. The reason uncertainty can create additional vulnerabilities for remote workers is that sometimes remote workers can feel excluded from things simply because they’re not physically with everyone else. This can lead to ambiguity and anxiety that, without the right touchpoints, can evolve into conflict-sparking stress.
Knowing how to handle conflict between employees is not just for upper management and executives. In fact, if you own the company, you’re probably not managing teams directly day-to-day. It’s important that you pass along your assessment tools to those who are. Ensure your managers are in the loop for how to spot vulnerabilities for remote conflict. This may even include noticing when an employee’s behavior seems to be different in the virtual world than it is in real life.
Have a Plan of Attack
Dealing with employee conflict on the spot can be stressful and can lead to ineffective attempts at resolution. Create a plan that’s clear and yet flexible on how to handle conflict should it erupt virtually. Notice the differences in how conflict can arise and be resolved when communication is virtual. Having a workplace mediation protocol that managers are well-versed in can lower anxiety among the team and can make the pathway to resolution a smoother one.
Don’t Forget About Team-Building
Just because your team or a few employees work remotely, doesn’t mean the bonding of peers isn’t important. In fact, it may be more important than ever. Even if it’s brief, find ways to be consistent in engaging everyone together so that they remember the relationships they once built in the office or so they can build new ones in this digital space. This can help remind employees of that human component that often gets lost once a human becomes simply words on a screen.
Typical employee conflict resolution strategies may not always work when teams or employees are working off-site. If you’re struggling to keep your team on the same page, contact Pollack Peacebuilding Systems to get conflict resolution support from the pros.