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Managing Conflict with Remote Employees

  • Posted by: Ellen Kandell

Remote work is the rule these past few months, in this time of the Covid-19 pandemic and social distancing. And it’s likely to continue for months. Conflict doesn’t stop with remote work. In fact, it may increase or show up in different ways.
Conflict that’s not addressed tends to grow and spread. Thus, it’s vital that employees-regardless of their role- know what to do when issues arise that cause conflict. While there are certain steps to follow when resolving a conflict in person, different tactics may be required to resolve conflict between remote employees.

People do or say things that they normally would avoid when interacting with people face-to-face. Virtual environments form digital barriers allowing for harsh rhetoric and opinions to be conveyed more easily. It is well documented that people loose their inhibitions online. They don’t have the benefit of visual cues from body language so their written communication which is one dimensional can tend to get misinterpreted.
This behavior is why it is important to implement specific steps to help curb and resolve conflict with remote employees—so that you can have a healthy work environment even remotely.

Adopt Preventative Measures
It is in a company’s best interest to adopt preventative measures so that any conflict can be addressed early.

1) Frequently checking in on remote employees via email, phone, or video conference calls, will make sure that everyone’s concerns are heard. These meetings enable everyone to feel part of a team and to foster relationship development, which leads to better communication.

2) Identify gaps in communication and sources of uncertainty. Make sure goals and priorities are aligned and that everyone knows their place on the team. This is where conflict often begins

3) Create an agreement that outlines expectations in your online work environment, and form guidelines regarding how each employee should work together.

Create a Clear Plan to Deal with Conflict

Let employees know whom they should talk to if they have a concern. The plan for handling any concerns should be written and distributed widely. Implementing a conflict plan will save you time and resources should issues arise. If you know that an employee has a concern, try reaching out to them and schedule a time to discuss the problems further.

If the conflict is among co-workers, you can schedule a virtual meeting with the disagreeing employees and have a mediator or a manager present. Set clear guidelines—like allowing each employee to express their concerns without any interruption.
Implementing a clear plan to deal with remote employee conflict, it can prevent problems from escalating and from becoming larger issues for the company in the future.
If it’s not possible to bring someone to address the conflict face to face, then make sure it’s addressed early. Also, coaching might be helpful for some individuals.

Listen Openly and Without an Agenda

Finally, [a] crucial step in addressing conflict in this manner is to remain as neutral as possible and listen without an agenda. By doing this, you are able to hear both sides of a conflict without prior bias, which enables you to act as a mediator. Encourage discussion from either party and do not state your opinion or stance on the issue. If you can, try to come to an agreement regarding how your remote employees can solve their conflict and how they can work better in the future.

Ellen F. Kandell is a certified professional mediator and attorney with over 30 years of public and private sector experience. An expert in dispute resolution and mediation, Ms. Kandell is certified by the International Mediation Institute. She has been a leader in the Montgomery County Bar Association and the Maryland Council for Dispute Resolution. She provides mediation services, group facilitation, neutral evaluation and training to diverse, national clients. Get in touch with her via email, LinkedIn, Twitter, or give her a call at 301-588-5390.

Author: Ellen Kandell

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