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Conflict in the age of Zoom

Communication tips for teams working remotely

The workplace as we know is changing and evolving in response to COVID-19, yet some aspects of working life will remain. Even with some staff working from home, some on reduced hours, others on leave, and some making sure they have their 4 square meters of floor space, workplace conflict and tensions will still have the potential to bubble over.

As essential workers (i.e. any people who still have jobs!), we seem to be stretching ourselves over and over again to adapt to ongoing changes in the workplace. Whenever there is the potential for increased stress on individuals, conflict and frustration between employees and within teams can rear its head - even online!

The best practice process for resolving conflict BC (“Before COVID”) generally flows like this:

  • Attempt to empower individuals to approach the person(s) they are experiencing the conflict with.

  • In a confidential, safe environment, embark on a courageous conversation to raise your concerns, discuss issues and seek an amicable resolution.

  • If the conflict is not resolved, the next steps are to have it resolved internally by someone skilled in facilitating a discussion.

  • If the issues are complex, or if a resolution has not been found, the next step is to engage an external, qualified mediator.

How does the process of conflict resolution work within a remote workforce, or DC (“During COVID”)?

Employers must not ignore workplace conflict.

When staff and teams are communicating via email, phone or video conference, this can potentially lead to misunderstandings, silences or unconsidered messaging. When individuals cannot resolve conflict directly, employers need to support their staff to resolve issues, communicate openly, and find win-win solutions.

Tips to promote positive communication within teams when working remotely:

  • Have team meetings to discuss any fears or concerns about working together as a team.

  • Support open communication and have the team set some agreed guidelines and rules of engagement.

  • Agree on guidelines for communication – e.g. email boundaries, expected response times, web meetings etc.

  • Establish regular touchpoints for the team and individuals, to keep everyone engaged and connected.

If conflict or frustration occurs:

  • Respond and deal with issues in a timely, fair and thorough manner.

  • As a leader or manager, understand the issues or frustrations arising between individuals or within the team.

  • Facilitate a discussion in a safe online space, ensuring that: – you are using a secure meeting platform, – all parties adhere to confidentiality and do not record discussions, – no unauthorised people are present during meeting, – the facilitator maintains order, code of conduct and enable both parties to have the opportunity to speak freely, be heard and promote active listening.

  • If an internal manager is not able to successfully resolve conflict between team members, it is advisable to engage an independent mediator, who will be able to work with individuals in accordance with best practice conflict resolution methods.

As we face the challenges brought by COVID-19, we can also harness the opportunities. This is the time to develop advanced communication skills. Perhaps this lockdown period will be remembered by your team as a time of engagement, trust, openness, empathy, and support.

WorkPlacePLUS effectively facilitates group discussions, conflict resolution, mediation, and workplace investigations via video conferencing technology.

For more information, please contact us today.


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