It’s been almost half a year since states issued stay-at-home orders to quell the spread of COVID-19. Since then, a lot of companies had to let their employees work from home in order to continue their operations. Even if you and your workers aren’t in the same space, conflicts and disagreements are bound to happen, just like in your physical office — and they have a wide range of consequences for your company.
The Cost of Workplace Conflicts
A study done by Myers-Briggs of workers in over 9 countries found that 85% of employees experienced some kind of conflict. In fact, almost 30% of workers also leave their jobs because of workplace disputes, according to a 2020 paper from Emtrain.
Turnovers that stemmed from office disputes cost U.S. companies over $223 billion in the past five years as well, the Society for Human Resource Management found in their latest study about toxic workplace culture and how it affects a company’s bottom line. After all, when a worker leaves, you have to spend money and other resources to attract, hire, and onboard a new one to replace them.
How to Manage Workplace Conflicts
Workplace conflict doesn’t just make your best employees less productive and satisfied with work, it can drive them to leave your company. The fact you can’t have true face-to-face conversations just makes the problem worse. ; And during these trying times, you can afford to lose great workers. So, what can you do to ease and even prevent conflicts while working remotely?
- Take preventative steps. Like any issue, prevention is always better than treatment. One way to do this is to identify the common issues in your workplace before you transitioned to working from home. Interview each employee and ask them for suggestions on how to solve each issue.
- Try to anticipate possible problems you may face during remote work, too. Some employees may find it hard to communicate virtually, others may find it hard to be productive at home. These issues can lead to missed deadlines and misunderstandings. Talk to your workers about this as soon as possible and think of possible compromises you can make to prevent them from happening, like using their preferred messaging application for work or implementing more flexible deadlines.
- Encourage empathy through face-to-face communication. One of the pitfalls of remote work is the lack of in-person communication, leading them to have less empathy towards each other. This is called the online disinhibition effect. It’s a dated but still relevant theory that states that cyberspace loosens the psychological barriers between people. Either of you may feel like you can say anything without dealing with its consequences. After all, you can’t see them, they can’t see you, and you can disconnect from the conversation at any time. This lack of empathy can lead to harsh messages being exchanged because of simple misunderstandings.
- Practice face-to-face communication online via video conferencing during your regular meetings. This way, you can see each other’s expressions and reactions to things you say and present, which may make you more mindful of your words and actions. ; You can even set up virtual hangouts or team building activities to make your remote team more comfortable and acquainted with each other.
- Establish clear rules in resolving conflicts. Without clear protocols on handling workplace conflicts, employees may be discouraged to bring issues up. Create rules on who needs to be informed when disputes happen and the solutions your company will use to solve them. Create a memo about it and announce it to all your workers.
- Be open-minded and impartial. Take every employee report seriously and always listen carefully about what each side says about the conflict. Keep personal assumptions off the table, too. You should be an impartial mediator between the two workers. Your job is to bring both sides into a fair understanding, not to choose a winner.
- Don’t be afraid to get professional help. If the issue escalates to possible legal action, don’t be afraid to get professional help from judicial arbitration mediation services. They’re trained and educated to understand each party’s side, provide a safe environment to discuss problems, and help reach a fair resolution without having to go through the expensive and mentally-exhausting process of a courtroom trial.
Employee conflicts happen even in remote work environments. Such issues can cause you to lose great talent, and ultimately cause your company to spend more because of turnover. Use these suggestions to handle workplace disputes efficiently and respectfully. You’ll have a happier and more cooperative workplace, both virtually and in-person, in no time.