Managing remote teams can be difficult, especially if employee conflict begins to brew. Avoid conflict by defusing it before it grows. In this article, serial entrepreneur Jason Kulpa shares three strategies you can use to get in front of potential conflict between your employees.
Because of the current health crisis, many companies have asked their employees to work remotely. New work from home policies leave managers physically separated from their workforce for the first time, and it’s unclear when, or even if, things will return to a pre-pandemic normal. If your company did not work remotely before the current global situation, it is probably a major cultural change for your team. Change always brings with it a potential for conflict between employees. Paying special attention to these three strategies will help you navigate these unfamiliar waters.
Even under the best circumstances, communication between employees can be tricky. When your employees talk to each other face-to-face, they rely on several different methods of communication. In addition to the words being said, there is body language, hand gestures, eye contact, and facial expressions.
In a work-from-home world, these communication elements are severely restricted. Often only one or two – voice and facial expressions in a Zoom meeting, or only words in a text message – can be used. A text or WhatsApp message can easily be misinterpreted and leave the recipient feeling frustrated or hurt.
Emotions, satire, jest, and sarcasm are not easily conveyed with text alone. When communicating with each other, employees will often assume everyone knows they are just kidding – but not everyone does. What was meant tongue-in-cheek could be received as an insult.
Overstress with your employees the importance of using as many communication elements as possible. Email, Slack, and text messages should be used only when trying to send a simple, straightforward message. Phone calls are better and virtual meetings are better yet.
Unfortunately, not all employees will assume the best about their colleagues. If no one has heard from Tracy all day, some of her co-workers will assume she is slacking off and not carrying her share of the load. This misunderstanding will lead to resentment and a sense of entitlement to give less than full effort.
Team members should be encouraged to overcommunicate what they are working on, how long they expect to be tied up on their current assignments, and – in short – be transparent about what they are doing.
As a manager, you will meet with resistance from your employees unless they feel safe and supported enough to be transparent. If they fear they will be criticized for taking a few minutes to themselves, they will tend to obfuscate their activities. Help your employees feel free to take a few minutes to rest or stretch their legs, or just chat with a colleague. The more transparency you can foster, the better your team will perform.
3. Emotional support
Even if your employees prefer to work remotely, they may experience emotional stresses they are not accustomed to. Feelings of isolation can creep in and knock your employees off their game, even if they can’t articulate why they are struggling.
Provide as much emotional support for your team as you can. Construct an environment where people can interact socially with each other. Talk with them even more than you would if you were all in the office together. Convey to them that you understand that what they are being asked to do by working through a pandemic is historically unprecedented, and you appreciate their efforts.
About Jason Kulpa
Jason Kulpa is a serial entrepreneur and the Founder and CEO of UE.co, San Diego’s Fastest Growing Business multi-year award winner, and a Certified Great Place to Work multi-year winner. Mr. Kulpa is a San Diego’s two-time winner of the Most Admired CEO Award of the San Diego Business Journal and a semi-finalist for the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur award. Under Jason Kulpa’s leadership, in 2018, his teams volunteered at over 24 events and worked side-by-side to improve the San Diego community. They hosted a gala dinner benefiting individuals with autism, cheered on Special Olympic athletes as they broke their records on the track, and brought school supplies and cold-weather gear to students impacted by homelessness. Jason’s mission is to bring awareness, support, and inclusion for special needs causes.