Blog Post 5-1-12

Conflict Doesn’t Go Away Just Because Employees Telework

I recently read an article, “Telecommuting Employee Advantages,” in which the writer suggested that “the numerous manifestations of ‘office politics’ hardly ever occurs in a telecommuting workplace.” While one of the advantages of teleworking is that there are less opportunities for workplace gossip and personality clashes, conflict doesn’t go away just because employees are not working at the same location.

A recent survey from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), a European group, suggested that the single most common challenge of teleworkers relates to misunderstandings due to cultural and language differences of globally operated teams. However, even people from the same culture have misunderstandings, generally exacerbated due to the use of technology.

Many respondents in the EIU survey cited misunderstandings because of a failure to appreciate how other people work. Although survey respondents indicated that “visibility” during the workday was a low priority (seventh on the list of team success factors), when team mates didn’t respond to emails, it was easy to assume they had stopped working for the day. In reality, it may have been a desire to avoid interruptions in order to focus on work. However, in a telework environment the lack of visual and vocal cues often amplifies issues. In fact, some researchers suggest that body language alone constitutes as much as 60 percent of a message.

Therefore, it is important for managers to understand the technology and communication preferences of their remote team members, and for teams to establish ground rules prior to starting a project.

While teams that telework may enjoy the opportunity to work remotely, conflict doesn’t automatically go away when you separate workers. It is important to understand the dynamics of teleworkers, and to learn how to lead your team. That’s where we can help. Contact us to learn more about our Telework and Mobile Work training series.