Where people exist, conflict exists. When you hear the phrase “workplace conflict” you might imagine the most passive-aggressive, or even just … aggressive situations that can arise between team members. Images of disgruntled employees gossiping with one another about a particular employee, or even a yelling match may come to mind.
Although situations like that aren’t uncommon, it’s important to remember that “conflict” can float under the radar, and fester in places that you may not even notice as a leader. Individual conflicts can come and go, negatively affecting your workplace culture without you ever seeing it happen.
In a remote or hybrid workplace, conflict becomes even more complicated. No longer do employees need to find a private area to have conflict-rife discussions with one another. Slack, email, and Zoom can disperse these conversations across many platforms, exacerbate conflicts that arise due to miscommunication.
Common causes of conflict in a remote or hybrid workplace, and how to avoid them
The easiest way to stay on top of conflict in any workplace, is to be regularly communicating with your team. Scheduling 1-on-1’s where you’re able to have open and honest conversations with each-and-every employee you support can help prevent many conflicts from happening in the workplace.
Although every manager should be able to resolve a conflict effectively, it's even more impactful to enable them to manage future conflicts from the onset.
When you do have these conversations, here are some things to look for that can help you spot future conflicts:
Differing reactions to change in the workplace
As you continue to transition to fully remote or hybrid workplaces, change is inevitable in almost every aspect of your business — from the way your employees communicate with one another, to how they track projects, and more.
There are some employees who will be open to change, and others who resist these changes. Differing opinions on any matter between 2 or more employees can lead to disagreements and ultimately conflict.
As with any change, it’s crucial to explain why change is happening, and listen to the opinions of your employees about that change. When employees feel like they’re not being listened to, they aren’t going to respond well.
Ensure that your team members understand the nature behind the change, and create opportunities for candid, honest conversations with them throughout the process.
Asynchronous work schedules
Every remote or hybrid employee has a different idea of what their workday should look like. Some prefer to get work done in the morning, and others in the afternoon. Some have children they need to take care of and drive to activities, and others are able to dedicate all day to complete a task.
If your organization allows employees to have a flexible work schedule, it can lead to disagreement, miscommunication, and even resentment between employees with differing schedule preferences.
There can be huge benefits to allowing for flexible work schedules, but it’s important to tell team members to be respectful of the preferences of their coworkers. Set clear expectations on what is and isn’t allowed in terms of when your employees are available or getting work done, and you’re less likely to see conflict come of it.
When your employees are spread out — there’s going to be miscommunication. It’s nearly impossible to avoid completely.
On some communication platforms it can be very difficult to convey emotion, tone, and intent of certain messages. Even a simple “ok” through email can rub some team members the wrong way… It can lead to thoughts such as: Why are they being short with me? Why didn’t they being more enthusiastic? They usually send an emoji along with their messages, are they mad at me?
Although these can seem a bit irrational, reactions like this are completely natural when employees are used to communicating in-person. When you strip away body language, facial expressions, and tonality, you’re left with only one thing to analyze: words on a screen.
This can lead to confusion, disagreements, and general misunderstandings between team members.
The best way to avoid miscommunication-related conflict in a remote or hybrid team is to have a solid approach to communication management.
How to resolve workplace conflicts between remote and hybrid employees
Start by scheduling individual conversations with each team member involved in the conflict, and a follow-up conversation where everyone is involved. For remote and hybrid teams, we suggest doing this over Zoom or another video-conferencing software.
Step 1: Identify the root of the conflict
During your individual conversations, ask questions to determine when and where the conflict started. Give everyone an equal opportunity to voice their perspective and make sure to take detailed notes. The cause may be one of the items listed above, or something completely out of left-field. The only way to find out, is to use solid listening skills, and resist making judgments without gathering all the information.
A conflict cannot be resolved unless everyone is on the same page about what caused it in the first place
Step 2: Explore possible solutions
When you’re having your conversations with each employee, ask them how they envision this conflict being resolved. There’s a good chance that they agree on what needs to be done, making your work far easier. If there isn’t a consensus on how to resolve the conflict, come up with some ideas yourself to present to them during your group discussion.
A good solution achieves two things:
- Puts the team members back-on-track to working well with one another
- Leaves as little room as possible for bitterness, and feeling like they weren't listened to throughout the resolution process
Step 3: Bring everyone together, and have an open discussion on the conflict itself, possible solutions, and next steps
When you bring two conflicting employees into a discussion together, it’s crucial that you lay out ground-rules and a solid agenda. Otherwise, conflicts can escalate, and individuals can feel like they’re not being heard.
Give each person the opportunity to voice their feelings in an objective way and talk about their preferred path forward.
As a group, determine possible ways to get past the conflict, and schedule some time to meet in the following week or so.
Step 4: Follow up
In the weeks after the group discussion, make sure to have open and honest conversations with each person involved. Ask them if they feel the conflict has been resolved, or if it’s still affecting them personally and professionally.
Bring everyone involved together for another follow-up conversation to level-set. If there are other issues that have arisen since the last conversation, there is more work to be done. If things have settled and the employees feel comfortable discussing how to avoid conflict like this in the future, make sure to let them speak on this. It should be your singular goal to make sure each employee is comfortable working with their team, and that conflict like this won’t bubble back up to the surface.