Just because a bulk of the defense sector is teleworking currently doesn’t mean personnel won’t experience employee relation issues like conflict management, leave disputes or attendance and time keeping dilemmas.

Employees who were already working remotely (pre-pandemic) will probably vouch that even though they were participating in a conference call from their home office, you can still experience different personality clashes. I’m sure everyone has experienced increased online debates with the various platforms we have at our disposal.

ClearanceJobs is here to give you some advice as your agency complies with stay at home orders to ensure our federal workforce is safe.

First, let’s tackle the different types of employee relation issues you may or may not have already run into in the workplace, but that you might experience during the COVID-19 pandemic. To manage conflict effectively, you must be a competent communicator and know how to either sight the issue, or ask investigative questions to learn that the issue is there.

Conflict Management

Personality conflict can occur in any environment, and the remote workplace is no different. Disagreements between employees or employees and supervisors occur over email, conference calls, or video calls – pandemic or not. Effectively managing workplace conflict is essential to the continued health of your team, and the operations of a company as a whole.

One of the most frequent issues is how two individuals communicate either to an individual or team. If there is no positive communication between two individual parties where they can voice their problems, the conflict can snowball into something much worse. Either poor team morale or termination of a team member are examples.

Leave Disputes

Do your employees know what the company’s leave policy is? Every employee should have access to this policy, especially with the flexibility that comes along  with teleworking. It is of the utmost importance that these policies are in accordance with state and federal laws so your company is not held liable, should there be an employee dispute.

Timekeeping and Attendance Issues

Do you require your employees to ‘come into the home office ‘and clock in or out? Does your team have set work hours, or is your company flexible while employees are juggling work and homeschooling? If employees are running late to meetings due to the circus at home, or are unresponsive when there is an issue to troubleshoot, do you have a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) in place?

Allowing employees to track time and communicate about attendance issues directly from from their smart devices reduces the chances for conflict, and while timekeeping issues are common, you can eradicate many of them by utilizing timekeeping software and multiple communication channels like Microsoft Teams, BlueJeans, Skype, or Google Hangouts.

Tackling the Conflict

While it’s a natural human tendency to avoid uncomfortable conflict with others, that tactic won’t work in the long term. With the pandemic among us, it may be easy for non-confrontational employees to hide behind working remotely.

Whether it’s pandemic or personality, neither is an excuse to go ghost: communication is essential. That includes creating an open communication environment in your business unit by encouraging employees to talk about work issues. Listening to employee concerns will foster this open environment. Make sure you really understand what employees are saying by asking questions and focusing on their perception of the problem. As a conflict manager, your immediate response to conflict situations is essential. Here are some tips and tricks you can use when faced with employees who aren’t able to solve their own differences.

  • The first step is to recognize the inherent problem or that the difficult situation is there. Honesty between the conflicted parties and clear communication play an essential role in the solution. Familiarize yourself with what’s going on and be open about the problem at hand.
  • Next, allow the employees to express their feelings in a productive setting. Some feelings of anger usually accompany conflict situations, but you will want to be a voice (or lack thereof) of mediation. Listening is so important to your role. Before any kind of problem-solving occurs, these emotions should be expressed. Meet with employees separately at first and question them about the issue at hand. Let the employees get it out, and video call platforms will work well for this while everyone is teleworking.
  • Determining what the need is can be difficult, but hearing both parties’ issues will help to come to this conclusion. What is the problem? What is the negative impact on the work? Are differing personality styles the issue? The goal of conflict resolution is not to decide which person is wrong but to reach a common ground that everyone can work through.
  • Find mutual agreements, no matter how miniscule. Agree on the problem, what the next steps should be, or on changes each employee can work in. If employees aren’t ready to voice concerns in a video setting, or are interrupting one another, put a pin in it, and follow up in writing with takeaways from the video call and what next steps will be. Total silence could also be a sign of passive reluctance to fix the problem, too, so be sure to get genuine agreement from everyone involved.
  • You should schedule a follow-up meeting in two weeks to see how the employees are doing, but should also think about contingency plans if the conflict goes unresolved. If the issue is causing a disruption on their team and it remains unresolved, you might need to research other avenues. Perhaps an outside facilitator who might be able to offer other insights. In some cases the conflict becomes a performance issue, and may become a topic for performance appraisals or disciplinary action.

For all of these steps, it’s important to remember check-ins throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Check in weekly with your team, whether it’s chat through Microsoft Teams, video calls through BlueJeans, or even email (be weary of this one, without tone, some things may be perceived differently between readers).

Lack of communication, or miscommunication is usually the root of employee conflict. Teleworking could add another layer to misunderstandings, but with multiple communication tools at human resource department disposal, it’s important to get ahead of these issues .

Preventative Measures

Having an effective employee relations plan in place will help you in numerous ways. You can avoid federal wage and hour violations, assist with schedule management, and give team members an easy way to communicate. This is an excellent way to ensure you promote a productive and engaging work environment for your employees.

Consider using a system that allows for consistent communication between team members and insist that this is the way they must communicate if a conflict arises. For example, if you have an issue, take a moment to think about what is bothering you, and voice your concern in professional way, instead of brushing the problem under the rug. When you make this a policy, you can avoid negative chatter and misunderstandings.

You can ensure that employees always feel that their issues are heard, even when you’re experiencing it virtually.

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Katie Keller is a marketing fanatic that enjoys anything digital, communications, promotions & events. She has 7+ years in the DoD supporting multiple contractors with recruitment strategy, staffing augmentation, marketing, & communications. Favorite type of beer: IPA. Fave hike: the Grouse Grind, Vancouver, BC. Fave social platform: ClearanceJobs! 🇺🇸