How to Reduce Conflict in the Workplace During and After a Pandemic

Workplace conflict can look a little different during a pandemic than it does during the best of times. The added stress and job insecurity can lead to easily agitated employees and create unnecessary conflict if they feel unsafe or unheard.

As cities move into different stages of progress with the pandemic, navigating the barriers of social distancing – as well as the different levels of comfort individual employees may feel – is vital.

Here’s how to help ensure your workplace is as stress-free as possible during and after the pandemic.

Manage Remote Work

It is key to ensure that your remote workers are feeling effective and productive at home. Working this way can be a challenge for employees with young children, who have to somehow manage childcare and being a homeschool teacher while also working full time. The added stress can hurt productivity, so be understanding if there are some minor delays as they adjust to this new way of life.

Use New Technology Efficiently

Technology is your best friend during a stint with working from home. It allows your employees to easily work remotely, and allows you to stay connected to them. Zoom meetings, conference calls, and Slack groups are all easy ways to connect and stay on track with everyone’s progress so no one feels out of the loop or stressed about when their coworker might be delivering the next piece of the project.

Adjust the Schedule if Needed

As noted above, employees with younger children might be struggling with working from home during the pandemic more than others. This doesn’t mean they can pass more work onto childfree coworkers, but it does mean they should have allowances for their hours to be a bit more flexible if needed, as long as the work still gets done on time.

Talk about Pay Cuts Early

Discuss the potential for reduced pay, reduced hours, and temporary layoffs as soon as possible. This allows people to plan for it and save their paychecks accordingly. If you lead staff to believe their job is safe but then all of the sudden lay off half the team, there will be a lot more conflict than you would have if you give people realistic outlooks into what their future might look like.

Ensure Employees Don’t Feel Isolated

Isolation can lead to a lack of productivity and a lack of job happiness. Connect with your employees often and ensure they feel heard. Check in with them emotionally—bosses who care about the mental health and physical wellbeing of their staff have happier and more loyal long-term employees.

Engage With Employees Regularly

Leadership is as important with a remote team as it is in the office. Your team wants to hear from you and stay in the loop with everything that is happening as your company navigates this unprecedented situation. See where they are at with their current workload and ask if they need extra time or help for any reason. Also encourage them to practice mindfulness to help reduce their stress levels.

How to Prepare For Returning to the Office

Follow Government Timeframes and Parameters

Depending on where your office is located, you may be considering whether it is safe to return to office life before there is a vaccine. Pay attention to local authorities along with government requirements for the most up to date and accurate information in terms of when is the best time to return.

Prepare for Staff to Come Back

Employees will undoubtedly be nervous to return to in-person work when the pandemic is still active. Give them adequate notice so they can prepare for the change and all the extra precautions that will need to be in place to make it safe to return.

Evaluate Your Needs When Re-Hiring Employees

If you are unable to offer everyone their job back, make that clear as soon as you know–and reach out to the ones you are unable to bring back. The best course of action to reduce conflict is to let all staff know you are only able to bring back a specific number of people right now, and see if some would prefer to stay safe at home. If people offer to stay home, that reduces the burden of deciding who does and doesn’t get to return.

Ensure All Company Property Is Accounted For and Brought Back to Work

With employees working from home, they likely have company laptops and other items with them at home. When returning to the office, take inventory and ensure everything they brought home is returned.

Ensure All Confidential Information Is Confined Within the Workplace

The risk of employees working from home is that there is potential for non-employees to see confidential company information. Make sure your employees know the importance of containing this information and ensuring that members of their family do not have access to it.

If You Are Unable to Bring Employees Back after the Pandemic, You Must have Proof

If, after things start to normalize, you are still unable to bring employees back, or have to cut pay and hours, you will need proof. Be prepared for employees to ask for proof that the pandemic is still the reason their job is not as secure as it once was.

Employers Must Provide A Safe Working Environment Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act

Employees can refuse to come back to work only if they prove the workplace is unsafe. If an employee refuses to come back to work because of fear for their physical health, they must have reason to believe it would be in danger if they return to the workplace.

What to do When an Employee Refuses to Return to Work without Proof

If an employee would prefer to work from home until there is a vaccine, it is wise to consider it if their work has been just as strong while working from home. If the request is within reason, and the employee provides value, there is more to gain and not much to lose in letting them work from home, at least until there is a vaccine and their safety can be guaranteed.

If you keep these factors in mind during and post-pandemic, not only will you have a productive staff during the lockdown, but a happy team looking forward to reuniting when it is finally safe to come back to the office.