The COVID-19 pandemic has forced organizations to change the way they operate, and a huge number of staff have made the move to working remotely. As with any kind of change, there’s an adjustment period, and the decentralization of the workforce poses many challenges.
Change can be tough on employees and the threat of the pandemic has also added an extra burden for many. Employees are working longer hours to try and keep business coming in, and because they are working from home, their work-life balance has shifted. They end up sleeping less and working more, while breaks from working and exercising feature far less than before.
Another consequence of employees pushing themselves is that they ignore signs of exhaustion and burn out. The consequence of this is that people’s tempers get shorter and shorter. Something that is misinterpreted in an email or Skype chat can be blown out of proportion and quickly escalate into a major conflict, with your company’s productivity being severely hampered.
However, just because employees are working from home doesn’t mean that employers can disregard corporate wellness, as while an employee is working for them – be it at the office or from home – they’re still responsible for their health and safety.
Conflict Resolution In A Remote Workforce
Managing a remote workforce can be a tough task. As maintaining productivity levels as well as deliverables is a priority, issues such as corporate wellness are easily brushed aside as ‘nice-to-haves’ that can be looked at later.
The problem with this attitude is that being in a remote workforce is lonely – especially if the employee lives by themselves – and if employees lose their sense of belonging to an organization, they will end up not performing to the best of their ability.
According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a person has five categories of needs which are organized as a pyramid. Only once each of these needs – starting from the bottom – is achieved can they attain their highest potential.
The first tier of the pyramid consists of physiological needs such as food, warmth, and rest.
- The next tier contains safety needs.
- The third tier is made up of belongingness and love needs.
- Number four is esteem, for example, a feeling of accomplishment.
- The last tier is self-actualization needs, such as achieving your full potential.
- This means that for your employees to reach tiers four and five, where they will meaningfully contribute to the company, they need to feel that they belong.
Listen to our podcast on: How to deal with conflict management in the remote working structure
Make Sure That Conflicts Do Not Start
The best way of managing conflict is by making sure that it does not start to begin with. Maintain that human connection with your employees and show that you care about them and not just about what they produce.
As we’re trying to limit our exposure to COVID-19, we cannot organize monthly or weekly catch-up meetings at a venue or host employees at a social event, we need to be creative about maintaining that human interaction.
A great way that we’ve seen some companies maintain connections with employees is with care packages. Food can affect your mood, and in times of stress, the default option becomes the unhealthy one. So, if you want to make sure that your employees are eating correctly, why not send them a fruit basket or a healthy meal they can pop into the microwave?
Alternatively, if you are getting feedback from your employees about certain challenges they are experiencing while working from home, try and fix these. For example, if your employees are complaining that their shoulders are sore from spending hours at a makeshift desk, why not send them a heat wrap to relieve muscle tension? These small touches go a long way to promoting a culture of wellness, and of de-stressing the workforce. And a de-stressed workforce is far less likely to engage in conflict.
Dealing With Conflict Remotely
If conflict does arise among your remote workforce, make sure you deal with it quickly and effectively so that it does not escalate. Tensions may run high as everyone adapts to the new normal, but your organization can put measures in place to mitigate this.
From day one, ensure that HR policies regarding conflict resolution are in place, and that everyone knows how to deal with a problem should it arise. Set out procedures and policies and accept that in times of high stress, tempers flare and there may well be disagreements amongst staff.
While all types of conflict are generally best dealt with in-person, there are digital tools available – such as Microsoft Teams, Google Meet and Zoom – that can simulate face-to-face meetings. Don’t try to deal with conflict situations over email, as this may end up escalating the problem. The employees involved could feel even more disconnected, and it’s far easier to lash out when not sitting face to face. A video call lets everyone air their grievances in a transparent manner and provides clarity on a situation, why it has arisen, and what can be done to change it.
When speaking to your employees on a video call make sure the background you display is appropriate for the interaction. By doing this, you show them respect and provide a professional yet neutral space for them to voice their concerns and reach a resolution.
Remember that during video conferencing your facial reactions may be misconstrued owing to a variety of technological factors. So, when dealing with a conflict situation, try and keep your facial cues to a minimum and verbalize your reactions instead. Be engaged, ask questions, ensure that you gain a full understanding of the situation and remain fair and objective. At the end of the call check in to see that all participants are on the same page and can move forward amicably. It’s also a good idea to regroup a week later and determine if the issue has well and truly been resolved, or if a follow up meeting is required.
Dealing with conflict among remote workers is challenging but it can be done. The core principles of handling situations remain the same – they’re just implemented in a slightly different manner.