It's no longer shocking; in fact, working from home has become the norm. And for young workers, checking whether an employer allows remote work has become a standard screening practice. However, the way in which workplace conflicts are handled is strongly affected by the emergence of this hybrid working culture.
"The fact that home office and hybrid solutions have become permanent alongside traditional office work has also brought about a change in coworker relationships. One of the big changes with the rise of remote work is that work and meetings have become task-oriented. The spontaneous situations, networking, and relationship-building that used to be part of everyday life, such as hallway chats, coffee breaks, and joint lunches, have disappeared," mfor.hu wrote, referring to a Valueteam statement.
At team-builders and training sessions, there is a clear need for increased togetherness, so that colleagues don’t just press the Join and Leave buttons in Teams or Zoom, but also meet again, talk informally, and experience being part of a team. But at the same time
working online, jumping from meeting to meeting, leaves more room for misunderstandings and miscommunication.
“Regardless of the form of work, cooperation difficulties and stereotypes within and between departments can appear in the same way" - explained Zsuzsi Steigerwald, organizational development trainer at Valueteam.
“As difficult as it may seem at first, it's worth opening up and starting a conversation. It's important that colleagues see each other not just in terms of roles - she's in finance, he's in marketing - but
start connecting as people. We promoted a situation in which, as a first step, we connected colleagues from two areas on a weekly basis to talk about everyday topics and get to know each other before moving on to more difficult organizational topics.
Understanding becomes easier as they get to know each other. In the process, they can look at the situation from a different perspective, even from the other's point of view, which can shed light on why their relationship has become strained. The key is to arouse curiosity and the desire to understand each other," suggests Zsuzsi Steigerwald.
Of course, acute situations may arise when face-to-face meetings are not enough to resolve the conflict, so it is worth involving a mediator to find the common ground.
The first step is to understand what drives the other person, what they are doing and why. Understanding each other's perspectives can move the relationship forward. In this situation, it can also be helpful to look for common ground: something that both parties can agree on. A mediator can act as an external eye to guide this process and help to resolve situations that seem irredeemable, and to reach a consensus.
- Experience has shown that there is often a topic, a debate, that is much talked about and focused on, while it is the underlying needs and wants that should really be explored and understood. One party may have a need to have their voice heard and recognised, to feel important, or to be able to assert their will. But when it comes to communicating that need they only end up saying, for example, that we are late because you did not start the system on time. These are the drivers we help to bring to the surface. This requires introspection, self-awareness, curiosity, and openness towards others," explains the Valueteam trainer.
Conflict situations can be successfully resolved online as well as in person. There are technical, perceptual limitations in how much of the other person you can see: their whole figure and therefore their whole body language, or just their face, close-up facial expressions. Although in an online meeting we can't look at each other as we can in person and we don't necessarily start chatting during our breaks, these things don't affect the way we handle tense situations.
You can focus on situations, freeze moments in an online meeting as well. Once we've gotten to the heart of the problem, once a touchy subject has been addressed, you can practically feel the tension, just like in person.
Slowing down and supporting these conversations can help to find out where, when, and how communication has gone wrong, and how participants can understand each other," says Zsuzsi Steigerwald.