Addressing conflict with returning to the office policies

Person sitting next to a river working on their laptop

Not all conflicts are bad. Having conflicting views can encourage dialogue and discussion allowing for ideas to shared. Taking a look at returning to the office,  How we return and why it matters is important.  It is all about collaboration in the new normal. This can lead to a collaborative positive even better solution. However, when conflicts turn negative this can have very destructive and negatively impact productivity, morale, and customer satisfaction. When address potentially negative conflicts remotely this can be an even bigger challenge in remote environments. You cannot simply walk down the hall and talk to the other party. So, what can you do to prevent and when necessary, address these types of situations?


Breeding ground for conflict


Attitudes matter. The attitude you have towards others, or the situation matters. Are you there to help?  Are you open to listening, being flexible, being adaptable without over promising? Are you there to confirm your negative perception and reinforce your opinion? Start with yourself and see if you might be part of the problem. If you are, consider making this situation into an opportunity. You attitude truly matters. Start out with a positive perspective and be there to help.


 Prioritizing interaction


With remote work environments there is a natural tendency to have less interaction. With less interaction and communication there is a greater likelihood for miscommunication. When there is communication, it is more likely to be by text, email, phone, or virtual. By definition if it is not face to face sitting across from one another with each party having a full grasp of the environment, facial expressions, and body language, there is a greater likelihood for miscommunication.


 Words, tone, body language, facial expressions


It has been found that the attitude in communication in general is attributed 7% to the words, 38% to the tone, and 55% to facial expression and body language. Clearly a text or email is efficient, but there is a lot of room for misunderstanding with only the words. A better alternative to address miscommunication is to call on your phone. Hearing the tone of another’s voice can help with any miscommunications. However, being able to see the other person’s facial expressions and body language significantly enhances the chances for understanding.




By definition then remote work environments can be a breeding ground for negative conflict due to miscommunications. Not being able to run into each other down the hall or walk into an office means less human interaction face to face. There are fewer opportunities for interaction. Some believe on the order of 90% of negative conflict is associated with miscommunication between the parties. As will be discussed below, focusing on open, honest, team building type, communication can make a major difference.


Ignoring Conflict


One way of addressing negative conflict is to simply to ignore it. What does this do? This allows the conflict to smolder and potentially grow into a fire. Ignoring negative conflict can cause it to fester. If left on unchecked this can eventually escalate and be a disaster for a team. Once someone loses their temper and overreacts, it may take a much larger effort to determine the root cause. The damage has been done. The time to understand, work the issue, reconcile, and move on can drain significant emotion and take time away from more productive activities. So, what can be done to prevent this from happening and what do you do should the situation become a disaster?




The old saying is that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In the case of negative conflict, developing trust, a strong team atmosphere, an open honest environment, and a team oriented towards listening to one another goes a long way towards prevention. When you have team meetings encourage activities that encourage good team interactions so that employees have a chance to get to know one another.


 Model the behavior


As a manager, model the behaviors you want to encourage. Have direct, open, honest conversations with your people, peers, and boss. When you are aware of potential negative conflict interject yourself into the situation to address the negative conflict as timely as possible. Develop your own and encourage employees to develop their conflict resolution skills.


 Consider team developed rules


Why do employees need to come into the office?  Consider your mission, vision, goals, and values. Tie these into customer service, business results, and employee satisfaction. Consider some team rules. For example, if after two iterations of texts or emails not addressing an issue, require a phone call discussion or a virtual meeting to address the situation. Also consider a rule that if we cannot resolve an issue within 48 hours, set up a call or a virtual meeting. Work these types of issues with your team so that there is a consensus on what the rules may be and then document this for everyone as a reference.


 Address passive-aggressive behavior


Passive-aggressive behavior involves being aggressive indirectly and regularly exhibiting resistance to requests or demands. This can be by procrastinating or simply being stubborn. If someone has passive-aggressive behaviors address this right away. Point out that this is happening and work with the parties to prevent this from happening going forward.


 Regular open meetings


Have regular team meetings to address any technical, administrative, possible, or probable issues so that you can identify potential conflicts as soon as possible. Ask open ended questions such as “What problems might this create?”, “It appears to me there may be additional concerns here, let us discuss this more.”, or “What am I missing? What do we need to address?”


Damage Control


If conflict continues or comes to the surface, you need to address this right away. Establish ground rules as the manager. Consider applying mediation techniques. Give one person the opportunity to have their full say. Do the same thing with the next person. Pay attention not only to the words, but also to the tone, and if virtual to the body language and facial expressions. Give each party the opportunity to listen to the other party. Facilitate the process to sort out the facts, the issues, the feeling behind each issue, and the interests of each party relative to each issue.

Consider other elements that may have triggered this blow up. Are there things going on outside of work that may have impacted the stress level? Was something overlooked? Was there an honest mistake? There can be a host of reasons and miscommunications. Often as a newer manager I realized that I was not clear. Shame on me. Over time, I learned to make sure I knew who was going to do what by when and that both the meeting agenda was clear with expectations, and the conclusions on action items by whom and by when were clearly understood, documented, and disseminated. This helped clear up many misunderstandings.

Do not forget to have fun along the way with ice breakers and team building techniques. Help everyone see each other as human beings too. This is especially important.

Take this an introduction to the topic. Do some additional research online. We are all continually learning. Try out some of these ideas. See what works for you and your team. Solicit their ideas too. You might be surprised what you and your team may come up with as part of your positive team culture going forward.

About the author

Mike Gregory is a professional speaker, an author, and a mediator. You may contact Mike directly at and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 12 books (and co-authored two others) including his latest book, The Collaboration Effect: Overcoming Your Conflicts, and The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS, and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]