Go to the office?!?

What do you mean exactly?

It is becoming more and more common that many companies offer the option to work from the office or mobile. Sometimes only for a few hours, but often companies even allow 100% flexibility.

I have to say, I don’t really know how I feel about it yet. The initial period of home office was delayed for me for almost two years due to parental leave. In the first few weeks, I found it quite depressing to work from my bedroom, even though I bought an electric height-adjustable table and a large screen. As I no longer saw my colleagues in person, but only virtually, I found it extremely difficult to find my way back to work. In addition, I had to cope with a crushing feeling when I saw, in comparison to my zoom status which remained green for days, the “permanent red” status of my colleagues who were busy all day. Am I out of touch? Am I missing something? Are my tasks not relevant enough for the others?

But after 6 months I got used to doing my thing, calling people even on Zoom or contacting them in chats. I now find it very nice to have my peace and quiet. That’s the crux of the matter for me: people want to keep their distance after more than two years of Corona, unbelievable isn’t it? I always hear the same thing from colleagues and friends: “I work mostly in a home office – THANK GOD!”

What does it do to us as a team? Do people lose the “WE” feeling?

This also has consequences for conflict management, because rehearsed routines do not work well anymore. Instead, other forms of balancing interests have to be found.

Sabine Prohaska* writes 6 tips on how to create a better virtual environment.

1. Introduce routines

Introduce appropriate routines into the communication and cooperation process. This can take the form of exchange meetings or short check-in questions at the beginning of an online meeting.

2. Be a role model

Become active! Let’s say you are annoyed about something. Then communicate this openly – if possible as an I-message. Here is an example: “I had the impression at our last online meeting that I was the only participant who was prepared. That annoyed me because …”.

3. Create digital spaces for conflict resolution

Make sure that your team members proactively create places for conflict resolution – for example in the form of chat or video conference rooms or sub-group meetings. After all, conflict is normal when people work together.

4. Keep the conflict arena small

Invite only the people directly involved to a conflict meeting. Don’t be tempted by digital technology to invite as many people as possible just because it is so easy online. For conflict resolution, it is often necessary for people to jump over their shadows. This is usually easier in a small circle, especially if confidentiality has been agreed.

5. Pay attention to the digital “we-feeling”

How well cooperation works, whether in analogue, digital or hybrid teams, always depends on the sense of community. In digital cooperation, the spontaneous informal exchange that strengthens the sense of “we” is often missing. So this form of communication should also be enabled digitally, artificially so to speak. For example, through meetings that are purely for “small talk”. Moreover, in online meetings, if possible, not only the “hard facts” and “needs” should be dealt with. Plan time in the agenda for informal, personal exchanges and relationship-building.

6. Keep an eye on the share of speech

In the digital space, it is important to give more structure to conversations than in face-to-face meetings. This includes keeping an eye on whether all participants have similar proportions of speech in conflict discussions. Stopping frequent speakers and activating silencers in a targeted way requires active moderation online.

OFFLINE MEETINGS

Generally speaking, if a large part of the communication and cooperation takes place digitally, the remaining real meetings are all the more important for reflecting on the cooperation, the team spirit and the development and expansion of trusting relationships. Therefore, if possible, organise face-to-face meetings of all team members at certain intervals. If conflicts arise nevertheless, then the following also applies to virtual cooperation: a personal discussion is preferable to digital conflict management – especially if it is necessary for a sustainable solution that the conflicting parties look each other in the eye and join hands in reconciliation at the end.

*Seminar Consult Prohaska, for Magazin Wirtschaft 5-6.2022, column Rat&Tat

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