A Word on Wellness: Preventing Conflict in the Virtual Office

February 7, 2022

by Susannah S. Alleyne
Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Counsel and Equity Ombudsperson
Law Society of Alberta

For those of us who are still working remotely some or most of the time, we might be tempted to think that less face time means less conflict; but, out of sight is not necessarily out of mind when it comes to workplace disputes. Although healthy conflict is part of relationships, some conflict can be prevented by creating a positive virtual workplace. Here are three tips that might help you identify and prevent conflict.

Establish One-on-One Communication

Whether you lead several departments or report to a manager, maintaining your one-on-one communication with those you work with is vital in the virtual workplace. For team leads, regular meetings with those who report to you will allow you to screen for potential conflict or provide an opportunity for team members to discuss something you have implemented that they are having difficulty with. For employees, scheduled check-ins with your team lead provides an opportunity to share where you might need extra support or discuss a dispute that you have not been able to resolve on your own. Regular communication is also a great tool for information dissemination. Many conflicts stem from misinformation or the perception that others have different rules to adhere to. If everyone can touch base regularly, these miscommunications can be addressed quickly, and leaders can make sure that everyone gets the same information at the same time.

Keep Team Building Going

While it has been about two years since the whole team has been able to attend a hockey game or an office holiday party together, that does not mean your team has to feel less connected. You can work with your team to plan online events that are not work-related. Some ideas include virtual jeopardy, guided meditation, virtual escape rooms or even a virtual campfire where everyone receives a mini smores kit in advance. Encourage colleagues to have occasional virtual coffee breaks to catch up with each other or get to know one another better. Whatever you plan, try to create a casual environment with an inclusive activity where co-workers can work together, get to know each other more, or engage in friendly competition. Getting everyone to touch base regularly, even on-camera, can help boost team morale and deepen individual connections with the rest of the team, making it less likely for unhealthy conflict to develop or for resentment to foster. It may also combat the isolation that many experience working remotely and encourage relationships that allow for respectful discussions, even when individuals or groups disagree.

Recognize Achievements

In different teams or departments, each person has valuable contributions that they can make to the team’s work and that advance the team’s goals. It is important that these moments are celebrated when team members have significant accomplishments or reach milestones with the organization. These efforts do not have to be management-led and colleagues should be encouraged to celebrate each other too. It is also important to recognize team achievements such as when a large project is completed, or an important file comes to an end. Celebrating your team’s individual and collaborative triumphs can help to reduce tension and encourage everyone to continue working together to achieve success.

Remote workplace conflict is inevitable. However, if your team has strong bonds and mutual respect, how you navigate that conflict can be much easier; and may even lead to opportunities to make your team stronger and more productive.