Remote work has brought with it a distinctive set of challenges. One of the primary challenges of remote work is the lack of emotional connection among team members.
Besides, in a remote work environment, the communication relies heavily on emails and messaging, and as a result, the intricacies of conflict resolution get amplified.
Udbhav Ganjoo, head-HR, Viatris, emphasises the inherent difficulty in forging these connections, which can lead to conflicts with existing employees.
Ganjoo observes, “In traditional office settings, employees have the advantage of regular face-to-face interactions that allow them to develop a sense of camaraderie and understanding. In contrast, remote work relies heavily on formal communication channels, limiting the opportunities for genuine emotional connections.”
“In a traditional workplace, non-verbal cues such as smiles, winks and empathetic expressions help prevent misunderstandings during communication. However, in remote work, unintended misunderstandings can arise due to the lack of such cues,” Ramesh Mitragotri, CHRO, UltraTech Cement, sheds light on a major challenge.
“In traditional office settings, employees have the advantage of regular face-to-face interactions that allow them to develop a sense of camaraderie and understanding. In contrast, remote work relies heavily on formal communication channels, limiting the opportunities for genuine emotional connections.”
Udbhav Ganjoo, head-HR, Viatris
Written communication, which is the primary mode of interaction in remote work, is prone to misinterpretation and ambiguity. Without the benefit of non-verbal cues, messages can easily be misconstrued, leading to conflicts and strained relationships. It becomes crucial for remote workers to be mindful of their choice of words and to provide additional context, when necessary, to ensure clarity.
Adapting to a new work paradigm
Mitragotri also highlights the need to adapt to the unique demands of remote work.
“Remote work is a relatively new concept, and our work practices were originally designed for physical workplaces. To avoid conflicts, we must consciously develop skills that foster connection and empathy,” advises Mitragotri.
Remote work requires a shift in mindset and a willingness to embrace new ways of collaborating. It is essential for individuals and organisations to recognise the distinct challenges posed by remote work and invest in training and development programmes that equip employees with the necessary skills to navigate conflicts effectively.
Navigating the communication conundrum
Mitragotri further elaborates on the communication challenges in remote environments, where conflicts can stem from mismatched expectations, misinterpretation of messages, and a lack of empathy. He emphasises the importance of navigating cultural differences sensitively to ensure effective communication and conflict resolution.
In a remote-work setting, team members often come from diverse backgrounds, bringing with them different communication styles and cultural norms. Without a shared understanding of these differences, conflicts can arise and misunderstandings can proliferate. Mitragotri suggests that fostering an inclusive and culturally-sensitive environment is key to establishing clear lines of communication and resolving conflicts in a remote-work setting.
Building relationships in a virtual world
It is important to build relationships and connections while following the remote-work model, because it helps fosters trust and understanding, which is crucial for resolving conflicts.
Ganjoo emphasises, “In a physical office, employees have the advantage of informal interactions, such as water-cooler conversations and lunchtime chats, which contribute to the development of relationships and a sense of camaraderie. In remote work, intentional efforts must be made to create opportunities for social interaction and team bonding. Virtual team-building activities, casual video chats and dedicated channels for non-work-related conversations can help bridge the gap and foster a sense of connection among remote team members.”
“Encourage team members to seek clarification when needed and provide detailed explanations to avoid misunderstandings. Let’s leave no room for interpretation”
Ramesh Mitragotri, CHRO, UltraTech Cement
Visibility and transparency challenge
Ganjoo points out the difficulties faced by managers and HR personnel in remote environments. “Understanding of the dynamics, context, attitudes, and awareness levels of employees is blurred when we rely solely on computer screens. This lack of visibility and transparency complicates conflict resolution,” observes Ganjoo.
In a physical office, managers and HR professionals have the advantage of observing employee behaviour, body language and non-verbal cues, which provide valuable insights into their mindset and attitudes. In a remote-work environment, these visual cues are limited, making it challenging to fully comprehend the context and dynamics underlying conflicts.
To overcome this challenge, Ganjoo suggests leveraging technology to enhance visibility and transparency. Project-management software, collaboration tools and regular check-ins can help track progress, provide opportunities for feedback and create a more comprehensive understanding of the remote workforce.
Strategies for successful conflict resolution
Face-to-face communication: “Video calls enhance understanding and reduce misinterpretations caused by written communication. Seeing each other’s faces and hearing voices bridges the communication gap, restoring a personal touch,” explains Ganjoo. Regular video meetings and virtual conferences can facilitate more effective communication, enabling team members to connect on a deeper level and better understand each other’s perspectives.
Clarity and conciseness: “Encourage team members to seek clarification when needed and provide detailed explanations to avoid misunderstandings. Let’s leave no room for interpretation,” advises Mitragotri.
Clear and concise communication is vital in remote-work settings, where messages can easily be misconstrued. Encouraging open dialogue and creating a safe space for individuals to ask questions and seek clarification helps prevent conflicts arising from miscommunication.
Social interaction: “Create opportunities for remote employees to connect on a personal level through virtual team-building activities and casual video chats. By fostering relationships, trust and understanding, conflicts can be addressed more effectively,” recommends Ganjoo. Virtual team-building exercises, online social events, and dedicated channels for non-work conversations can help build a rapport among team members, promoting a sense of unity and collaboration.
Tools & technology : “Utilise collaboration tools and project- management software to promote transparency, visibility and clear communication among team members. Technology can bridge the physical gap and facilitate smoother conflict resolution,” opines Ganjoo.
Adopting technology solutions that enable seamless collaboration, document sharing, and real-time updates can enhance visibility and transparency, enabling remote teams to work more efficiently and address conflicts in a timely manner.