Maintaining clear communication while working remotely is integral to a company’s success. However, despite its importance, many companies still struggle with implementing an effective strategy that works for each employee. As such, a lack of clear and effective communication can lead to a decrease in productivity and remote work conflicts.
Lost in Translation
According to a 2020 research study, only 1 in 3 employees had experience working from home prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, a record number of workers have had to navigate the realities of remote work. People who have only ever dealt with coworkers and managers face-to-face are now experiencing an entirely new kind of workplace conflict.
Remote work conflicts often arise from miscommunication and a lack of transparency regarding job duties and assignments. Over the years, employees have come to rely on in-person interaction to discuss the details and goals of the work they produce. And while these discussions are entirely possible through email and message boards, understanding social cues becomes much more difficult.
The Process of Communication
At its most basic level, communication consists of a message, sender, and receiver. The entire communication process starts when one employee (the sender) interacts with a coworker (the receiver) to share information. While quite simple, this process can sometimes lead to issues depending on how those involved deliver and interpret the information.
For example, if the sender shares unclear directions regarding an assignment, the receiver will struggle to make sense of them. Conversely, if an employee shares clear directions yet the receiver misinterprets that information, a conflict could potentially occur. In short, when sharing information or providing instructions, it’s imperative to be as clear as possible to avoid a misunderstanding.
Working from home provides plenty of opportunities for employees to learn and grow, but it also presents a number of unique challenges concerning communication. The first step in addressing remote work conflict is to understand what causes it so you can keep it from occurring in the first place.
Resistance to Change
Among the most prevalent causes of remote work conflict, resisting change can snowball into larger workplace issues. When a company requires its employees to telecommute, it also requires them to step outside their comfort zone and embrace uncertainty. Human beings are creatures of habit and a shift in their work dynamic, whether gradual or sudden, disrupts their individual work style.
Remote Work Stress
When addressing remote work conflict, it’s essential to remember that we’re all human and, despite experiencing this together, each of us has a different way of adapting to new situations. Stress can quickly lead to poor communication, whether that be verbal or written, and the result is often messy. A few ways companies can help manage the social stress of working remotely include:
- If safe to do so, plan in-person company get-togethers to help workers stay engaged on a personal level.
- Regularly check in with employees and coworkers through chat software, email, or phone and video calls.
- Provide in-person or telehealth counseling services.
- Celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and other important occasions virtually as a company.
Time Zone Differences
Companies that hire out of state or out of the country face the difficulty of differing time zones. From employees forgetting to send an email to technical issues limiting productivity, a variety of issues can stem working in different time zones. Setting clear expectations and adopting effective documentation strategies are the best methods to avoid these types of communication issues.
By its very nature, remote work relies heavily on computer and technical skills to maintain communication and complete assignments. As such, some employees may have difficulty with the technical aspects of working from home. To ensure productivity and reduce frustration, all employees should receive the appropriate training and accommodations to perform their jobs at home.
Remote Work Communication Strategies
While knowing the potential causes of remote work conflict is helpful, applying that knowledge is another challenge entirely. It’s best to put actionable strategies into effect in order to stay ahead of any possible issues or disputes while working from home. A few proactive approaches companies can adopt to avoid conflict resulting from communication include:
Engagement Through Discussion
Businesses that encourage regular communication between coworkers and managers can avoid many workplace conflicts before they arise. To help facilitate this, some companies develop an online forum for employees to discuss work-related and personal, safe-for-work topics.
Many businesses require employees to send an end-of-day report through email, phone, or video calls to keep everyone on the same page. When each employee is aware of what their coworkers are doing and how they’re doing it, much of the ambiguity inherent in remote work diminishes.
Regular Company Meetings
For some companies, daily video calls are unnecessary and can prove distracting. In these cases, weekly video calls are a more realistic option. Video calls are also a great opportunity for employees to catch up with coworkers and even show off their personalities through video backgrounds.
Remote work is uncharted territory for many employees, and easing them into this new dynamic requires the proper training. Whether it’s instruction on using video technology, tips on addressing internet issues, or the procedure for submitting work each day, communicating clear expectations and guidelines is the number one way to avoid conflict.
Conflict in the workplace is not a new concept, yet looking at it through the lens of remote work colors it differently. Along with a drastic change in their work environment, employees must alter their communication style to fit an entirely new process. Many of the important social cues we’ve grown accustomed to are evolving into learning to interpret emails or body language during video calls.
However, by implementing effective communication strategies such as daily check-ins, weekly meetings, and company message boards, employers can set clear expectations and avoid conflict before it starts. Face-to-face and in-person interaction might be less of a certainty in today’s work climate, but maintaining a happy and productive workforce is still possible with the right approach.