Conflict Resolution In Hybrid Workplaces
Oct 16, 2023, 8 min read
Remote working has been a staple for many business structures since the Covid-19 pandemic forced teams to adopt this way of working. With workplaces now returned to their usual day-to-day, a hybrid approach is common. This allows employees the work-life balance benefits of working from home for part of the week without moving to a 100% online model.
In this new reality, one of the biggest issues HR teams and managers face today is conflict resolution in hybrid workplaces, and the subsequent mental health challenges this causes.
At Augmentive, we aim to provide holistic, tailored mental health support to everyone so they can live their life to the fullest, so if you have questions about mental health in the workplace, we’re here to help.
The upsides of a hybrid workplace
Hybrid workplaces have many positives. With a sought-after mix of flexibility and productivity, both employees and employers can find benefits in the hybrid model. For employees, these can include:
- A better work-life balance
- Less commuting time and stress (which can improve overall wellbeing)
- More productivity (thanks to personalised working hours and environments)
Employers can benefit from:
- Reduced overhead costs like paying for office space
- Increased employee satisfaction, and as a result, employee retention
- Maintaining in-person collaboration when required
A Gallup study of 8,090 remote-capable employees found that 71% of respondents said they noticed an improved work-life balance since becoming hybrid, and 67% said they used their time more efficiently, proving that hybrid can be a great model for both employees and employers.
The downsides of a hybrid workplace
While there are huge advantages to a hybrid workplace, it can be detrimental to ignore the downsides. The downsides of hybrid workplaces – for both employees and employers – include:
- Barriers to communication in teams, leading to fewer spontaneous interactions and mostly transactional relationships
- Negatively impacted relationship-building, problem-solving, and creativity
- Negatively impacted company culture
- Feelings of isolation, and as a result, reduced job satisfaction
Collaboration is key within teams, yet the same Gallup study mentioned above found that 16% of respondents said their team collaboration had increased since adopting remote working, while 30% said it had decreased.
How conflict arises in hybrid workplaces
Conflict can be just as common in hybrid workplaces as it can when all employees are working face-to-face in an office. With differing expectations of remote work, and regular communication breakdowns and misunderstandings, there are a number of ways conflict can easily arise in hybrid workplaces.
A survey of employees by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found that 35% of respondents had experienced some form of interpersonal conflict in the past year, either as an isolated incident or ongoing difficulty. Conflict in teams can lead to underperformance, and employees end up working in silos rather than collaborating.
Furthermore, a hybrid model of working can mean employees find it easy to avoid – or not notice – conflict in its infancy, meaning it can grow much deeper roots over time if not addressed early.
Working in person with others means employees are better able to pick up on feelings, mood, body language and more in order to gauge the reality of a situation and provide support if needed. At home, employees may miss everyday social cues, misunderstand written communication, clash with other personalities, become competitive, not realise the workload they are delegating, and much more.
Why conflict resolution is important
Conflict resolution in general is important for mental health, but for organisations, it is especially important to avoid a decline in employee mental health and, as a result, teamwork. HR teams can do this by addressing workplace disputes before they lead to:
- Increased absences
- Lower productivity
- Lower company loyalty
- Legal issues
- Disciplinary action
By being proactive and preventing conflicts ahead of time, businesses can protect the mental health – and as a result, productivity – of their workforce.
According to a CIPD survey, 24% of employees believe that issues like bullying or harassment at work are often ignored by their organisation rather than addressed, while almost 31% of employees said when they reported incidents they were not taken seriously.
Conflict resolution is vital for any business, as unresolved conflicts can disrupt workplace harmony and eventually lead to a toxic work environment. By dealing with conflict resolution efficiently, businesses can create a culture of open communication, encourage collaboration, problem-solving and innovative thinking within teams, and foster the healthy, productive work environment needed for business success.
How managers can manage conflict in hybrid workplaces
If you run a hybrid workplace and are looking to effectively manage conflict, here are a few strategies to consider:
Create open communication
Communication is a key factor in all of life’s relationships, but it is crucial in our working relationships. Past studies have found that better internal communication can improve productivity within an organisation by as much as 25%, so it has benefits for employee mental health and for the organisation’s bottom line. Create open communication with employees so that everyone is on the same page, and conflict is quashed quickly.
Establish guidelines for remote working
Not everyone will take to remote working easily, and it is important to lay down ground rules. Decide on your remote working policies and define what you expect of staff ahead of time, so everyone is adhering to the same rules.
Do everything important in person
Often conflict arises in hybrid models when there is a misunderstanding. In order to avoid this as much as possible, it can be more effective to discuss anything important, time sensitive or conflict-related in person, rather than over digital communication channels. This removes any ambiguity from the process, and makes sure objectives are clear.
Provide training for managers
Managers can be involved in conflict too – one survey found that team leaders who displayed authoritative leadership behaviours are detrimental to the psychological safety of employees, while leaders who took a consultative or supportive approach promoted psychological safety. By creating a positive team environment you can build a foundation that allows you to effectively challenge conflict in future.
Instead of waiting for conflict to arise, identify any areas of the business or team that could lead to this in future. Do a regular HR risk assessment, and work to resolve any possible conflict before it arises. Encourage employees to report potential conflicts early, and foster an attitude of openness and respect.
Remote working employees can miss access to important information if they are not in the office, so try to be as inclusive as you can by making sure all career development opportunities are reported in a central place that everyone has access to. Also, remember there may be many different opinions and viewpoints involved, so always try to focus on the problem, not the person, in order to reach a resolution that works for everyone.
Work on team building
Team building activities can be a great way to encourage communication and problem solving while keeping everyone in touch on a more casual, personal level, and encouraging a sense of camaraderie within the team that can transcend any underlying conflict.
How employees can manage conflict in hybrid workplaces
If you want to manage team conflict more effectively within a hybrid working environment, here are a few things you may wish to try:
- Use appropriate language – Use "I" statements to share how you feel rather than blaming others. An example might be "I feel stressed when deadlines are missed because I am always the one who stays late to pick up the slack”, rather than saying “You always drop the ball on deadlines and I have to fix everything.”
- State your intention – If you recognise a possible conflict before it arises, it can be helpful to take time to consider what you would like to gain from the conversation. Tell the other party your positive intention, and listen to theirs in order to reach a healthy middle-ground.
- Focus on the team’s goals – If you work within a team, stay focused on the larger goal. Don’t focus too much on getting what you want, but rather, try to think about what would be best for the team as a whole. Having this as a ‘true north’ can help everyone come to a mutual understanding.
- Write clearly – When communicating in writing, give as much context and clarity to your words as possible in order to avoid any misunderstandings. Emails are easily misconstrued, so try to read it as the other person might before you hit send.
- Always lead with empathy and compassion – A study on the role of empathy and compassion within conflict resolution found beneficial effects from ‘compassion training’ on personal and group relations, and outlined potential for this type of training to reduce group conflicts in future.
Why ongoing support is crucial for employee and manager wellbeing
Part of managing conflict in a hybrid workplace is ensuring employees' mental health does not suffer as a result of any issues brought to light. Finding a resolution and supporting mental health are both as important as each other, so offering employees and managers access to ongoing support via trained, qualified professionals who can provide support, listen to employees’ needs without judgement, and offer tools to help manage their mental health going forward can be a game-changer for teams of all sizes.
Mental health support for employees can:
- Offer immediate assistance in moments of crisis
- Help your team manage stress and burnout long-term
- Foster a culture of openness in the workplace, and reduce stigma around talking about mental health
- Help employees better manage their work-life balance in a hybrid role
- Help employees feel their best, which can lead to better productivity, teamwork, employee retention, and much more
In the modern-day work environment, mental health should be a key consideration as it has a huge impact on how conflict is managed from all sides. At Augmentive, we offer a workplace wellbeing platform that is tailored to your organisation, and a bespoke solution to mental health issues within your teams. Our network of over 1,000 qualified practitioners means employees have access to everything they need to continue feeling their best.
With online and in-person appointments available to suit a hybrid style of working, and a dedicated account manager, we can ensure your workforce continues to thrive. You can read more about how to deal with hybrid working and take care of your mental health here.
Empower your employees to take control of their mental health and performance by offering your employees access to Augmentive’s network of 900+ qualified practitioners. With a holistic network of specialists, on-demand ‘ask a therapist’ functions, quick and flexible booking, a dedicated account manager and much more, we offer a service for your employees that not only helps them maintain great mental health in the workplace, but ultimately maintains and improves the performance of your teams.