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Quick Tips: How to Manage Expectations and Reduce Conflict When Working from Home

by Michael Premo, Senior Content Manager

During this unprecedented time, millions of Americans have been ordered to work from home. Sure, we’ve all had to work from home for a day or two, but not weeks on end. Plus, the kiddos were always in school, so there were far fewer distractions. All of it just adds to the general anxiety and stress of the situation.

This is all so new that you’re probably finding shortcuts and life hacks to get through your day—doing what works with limited resources and a ton of restrictions. You want to be able to perform at your best, but there seem to be obstacles everywhere.

Here are some tips for managing employee expectations, as well as your own. We’ve also included some tips to reduce conflict because you’re not able to sit down with people and have those face-to-face conversations that matter.

 

Expectations

Talk with your supervisor and identify your priorities. What will standing meetings be like? What are their expectations for responses to email, DM, or phone calls? You’ll also need to know the best way to coordinate efforts and track progress. These are only a portion of your expectations.

 

Start with Your Technology

Does your home computer support video conferencing? You may have a laptop from work, but there may come a time when it’s not working correctly, and IT is nowhere to be found. You’ll need to update your home computer to compensate for this. Make sure that video conferencing works, you can share screens, and that you have the latest updates installed.

Do you need an extra screen? Two screens are better than one and improve your productivity. How about your printer? Bandwidth on WiFi? Your kids will probably be online, too. You should check to see if that has any effect on your connections. Together, these are really important to manage your ability to perform and meet your expectations.

 

Children at Home

As a parent, you are facing one of the biggest challenges in your life. For online schooling to be successful, you’ll need to be there for them while they navigate online classes and act as a tutor. This requires you to be as flexible with work as possible. Be realistic with your expectations and communicate your situation with managers. They’ll understand.

There is no striking a balance unless you have a plan in place for their education and entertainment. Their teachers will have a great plan in place. Follow it as carefully as possible and reach out to them for teaching advice when necessary. Books and puzzles are great and limit screen time when it’s absolutely necessary. Video chats and most gaming consoles allow kids to interact while playing together. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than complete isolation.

 

Your Home

A workspace is essential. If you don’t have a home office, make one. Put up boundaries to limit traffic and disruptions. Homemade signs will help.

More time at home means more cooking and cleaning. Get everyone involved. Being a family is a team effort. This is hard to do with young children, but they are capable of doing small tasks. Just ask their teachers. Kids are expected to clean up after themselves at school, wipe down surfaces, even sweep. It won’t be perfect, so try to relax your expectations.

 

Reducing Conflict

Successfully managing conflict is even more difficult if you’re now required to manage teams remotely. With the unique nature of our current situation, conflict is bound to happen at some point. As with any workplace conflict, disagreements and pettiness need to be managed carefully.

Context, nuance, body language, facial expressions, and anything else we use to take cues in face-to-face communication are missing when using text, email, or other forms of electronic communications. Most people hate confrontation. But, there are some telling signs when they get frustrated or feel like they are being treated unfairly.

You’ll see it in a terse email or abrupt conversation over the phone. Also, look for back-and-forth conversations that escalate. You’ll see this, especially with the “blame game.” People sometimes feel less inhibited in what they say when online, so they’re more apt to express harsh opinions that attack personalities. It’s one thing to voice personal frustrations, and another to attack others. If these things arise, you’ll need to stop them immediately.

 

Communication

When you see it, get involved right away. You need to deescalate all conflicts. Even if you’re not their boss, you need to step in and be a neutral party, a mediator to stem any damage the conflict may cause.

If you are in a position to intercede, then take it into a private space where you can acknowledge that there is a problem.  You’ll need to bring them together to define the problem, and each party has a chance to talk about the problem. Your job will be to find commonalities that each side agrees upon, then lay out follow-up actions to bridge their disagreement.

  • Focus on the problem, not the people.
  • Restate each position and offer a solution to their complaint.
  • Keep communicating until a resolution is achieved.

Always be proactive when conflict arises. This will keep it from getting out of control. You’ll find that these issues become opportunities when appropriately harnessed.

Successfully working from home requires a lot of patience, empathy and communication. If you have any advice or stories to share, we’d love to hear from you during this difficult time. We’re in this together, and our community will become stronger because of it.