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How to Resolve Conflicts in the Hybrid Workplace

  • By Diana Kawarsky, MA, CCP
  • September 28, 2023

conflicts in the hybrid workplace

COVID-era shutdowns have rendered the hybrid-work model standard for many businesses. While this workplace flexibility has numerous advantages, it can also produce conflicts not often seen in traditional workspaces. When members of the same team are working differently—with some employees in-office and others remote, all on different days of the week—it leaves room for endless clashes, from communications and visibility to workload and work-life balance.

Managers are instrumental in managing conflict in the workplace, wherever that might be. Team leaders should always be sharpening their conflict-resolution skills, and hybrid workspaces are a great place to flex those muscles.

Keep reading as we detail the best ways to resolve conflicts in the hybrid workplace.

Common Causes of Conflict in the Hybrid Workplace

A hybrid workplace allows employees to split their time between working from home and in the office. It’s the perfect setting for disagreements.

Here are some of the most common sources of conflict in hybrid environments.

Communication Breakdowns

Teams may not realize how much they rely on in-person communication until it’s no longer an option. Without morning boardroom meetings, office pop-ins, and water cooler exchanges, the team’s once-seamless communication may fall apart. Hybrid teams must adopt a solid virtual communication strategy to keep lines open and free-flowing.

Unequal Access to Information

Office workers have all of the company’s resources available at their convenience. Due to security concerns or a simple lack of visibility, remote and hybrid workers may not have the same access to information they once enjoyed. As a result, they might feel overlooked and undervalued by management.

Misaligned Expectations

In remote work, conflict abounds when expectations are unclear from the outset. Management and employees could have differing ideas on how and when tasks should be done. The lack of clarity can result in overwork, missed deadlines, and employee burnout.

Workload Disparities & Inequitable Opportunities

Employees may feel the workload is unequally distributed across teams in the hybrid workplace. Visible office workers are often more likely to receive key assignments and promotions.

Isolation and Loneliness

Hybrid employees may miss out on the summer BBQ lunches and annual Halloween contests that create a sense of community in the workplace. Feeling lonely and isolated, these workers may lose their engagement and productivity.

Differing Time Zones & Cultural Differences

Some remote workers aren’t just working outside the office but in another time zone. This time zone difference can create conflicts when unknowing (or inconsiderate) colleagues initiate communications during inopportune hours. Businesses with international offices should also consider cultural differences when communicating with remote teams.

Micromanagement and Autonomy

One leadership-driven source of workplace conflict in remote working is micromanagement. It’s when managers excessively monitor and control all aspects of their subordinates’ work. Managers may feel the need to micromanage remote team members, who they can’t peek in on. This removes the employee’s autonomy to complete their tasks in the best way for them.

Technology Issues

Video conferencing. Instant messaging. E-project managing. In addition to learning these new technologies, employees must also navigate the glitches that come with them. Frustrations over tech issues can lead to bickering between workers.

Unresolved Conflict

With employees dispersed, there are fewer opportunities to address any squabbles as they happen. When conflicts remain unresolved, issues fester, and resentment builds, creating a toxic working environment.

Lack of Face-to-Face Interaction

People who thrive in face-to-face interactions excel at reading body language and other nonverbal cues to better understand their coworkers. Without these visual aids, a person’s intentions can be misinterpreted, if not altogether distorted. It’s easy to misread, or read too much into, words written in an email or instant message.

Difficulty Balancing Work and Home Life

Working from home can blur the lines between career and household responsibilities. Some will have trouble setting a fixed start and end time for their workday and instead work continuously throughout. Employees may begin to feel like they’re always “on the clock” as their home life suffers.

Change Resistance

Long-time employees who are used to conducting business a certain way may be resistant to the changes remote work brings.

Different Ways to Resolve Conflict in a Hybrid Workplace

The above issues underscore the importance of conflict-management skills for leaders and their employees. Let’s look at several ways of managing conflict in the hybrid workplace.

Encourage Open Communication

It’s important to keep all communication channels open in the hybrid working environment. Employees should be able to easily communicate with their teammates and leaders at home or in the office. This reduces misunderstandings and boosts engagement among remote and onsite employees.

Provide Mediation

Employee-led mediation is a useful tool for conflict resolution in the workplace. A neutral team member, for example, can use video conferencing to help an in-office worker understand the remote worker’s grievances and bring both sides together to reach a peaceful resolution.

Offer Conflict-Resolution Training

Conflict-resolution training will provide employees with skills to proactively manage workplace conflicts. These skills may include anticipating problems likely to arise in a remote work setting and planning ahead to prevent them from occurring.

Practice Active Listening

Active listening doesn’t require both individuals to be in the same room. Video calls allow workers face-to-face interaction, encouraging eye contact and full attentiveness to let the speaker know they’re being heard and their feelings are valid.

Change Management Style

Micromanagers can limit conflicts by providing hybrid workers with resources that facilitate collaborative communication and trust them to get the job done independently.

Clarify Expectations

Establishing clear expectations and deadlines for remote workers will ensure that managers and employees have shared objectives and eliminate confusion over assigned tasks and any resulting conflicts.

Set Up Guidelines

Managers can take charge by setting standard protocols for team collaboration. Identify team members’ roles and responsibilities, determine the best channels for sharing information, and classify information according to its level of urgency (e.g., Zoom-worthy vs. email-worthy).

Encourage Empathy

Many workplace conflicts can be resolved by practicing empathy. Team members can lower tensions and build trust and respect by showing compassion and understanding toward the opposing side.

Promote Team Building

Performing team-building activities that can be done both online and offline will help to unite and motivate hybrid teams. Try virtual escape rooms, online charades, or scavenger hunts to promote teamwork and problem-solving skills that can also extend to conflict management.

Appreciate Diversity

Leading companies recognize that diversity in the workforce can bring innovation and creativity. However, it can also cause conflicts and cultural misunderstandings. Managers and employees can prevent diversity conflicts by fostering an inclusive environment.

Help Your Employees Develop Conflict Resolution Skills with TSSG

Conflicts are inevitable in conventional and hybrid workplaces. The problem is when they escalate to interfere with work operations. Businesses can mitigate the risk by investing in conflict resolution training for employees at all levels. The Soft Skills Group (TSSG) offers customized workshops for leaders and their staff members, where they learn how to develop conflict resolution skills for a healthier, more productive workplace.

Contact us today to learn more about our workshops.

Diana Kawarsky, MA, CCP

Diana is President of The Soft Skills Group Inc., and a senior training & development professional with over 20 years of experience in delivery, design & consulting with Fortune 500 companies, Universities & Colleges in Canada, USA, Europe, and Asia. Read More