Can telecommuters experience workplace rudeness? Unfortunately, yes. However, with these nine tips, you can proactively mitigate potential conflict to keep your remote team intact.
9 Ideas to Keep Workplace Rudeness in Check
Did you know that rude coworkers dramatically deplete office morale and employee performance? Researchers at Harvard Business Review learned that workplace rudeness decreases productivity, quality, and job and organizational commitment. It also increases time spent worrying about the event and avoiding the offender. Though telecommuting extinguishes many office nuisances, rudeness and disrespect can still exist within the remote workspace.
How can virtual teams possibly be rude to each other, you ask? The same way teams who work under the same roof can be rude to each other. It usually comes down to miscommunication and misinterpretation. Luckily, there are simple ways to avoid escalation and maintain team cohesiveness. Consider these nine ideas for keeping remote workplace rudeness in check.
1. Communicate Thoughtfully
Stanford Business reminds us that it’s hard to detect the context of an email, so people are more apt to take things personally. Virtual communication is usually more direct and unemotional, so emails can sting when you’re used to more delicate communication styles.
When sending emails and instant messages, use positive language as much as possible, especially when providing constructive feedback.
Consider using the “compliment sandwich” approach: Start with a positive statement, insert the critical content, then close with another positive, reinforcing comment. Don’t be condescending, but try to include a few encouraging words to boost morale and avoid misinterpretation.
When receiving emails and instant messages, try not to read too much into the text. Consider giving the sender the benefit of the doubt and attaching unintended connotations to the message. Always reply professionally to avoid adding potential confusion.
2. Stay Connected to the Team
It’s common for work-at-home professionals to feel out of the loop and disconnected from their co-workers. Though some view disengagement as a perk of telecommuting, knowing they’re part of a larger team can be uplifting and motivating.
Provide ways for staff to communicate and get to know each other. You can schedule monthly phone meetings, start an ongoing email thread, or use a cloud-based collaboration tool like Slack or Fleep. Encourage team members to chat with each other directly and casually (but appropriately).
The more regular contact a remote team has, whether over the phone, video conference, email or online chat, the closer they’ll feel to each other.
It’s likely remote team members will be friendlier and hold healthy, constructive conversations the more trust they build. Plus, they’ll get used to each other’s communications styles, so they’ll be able to interpret the context of emails and chats with more accuracy.
3. Cultivate a Sense of Community
There’s a difference between staying connected and developing a sense of community among staff.
A connected team can work together efficiently, but developing a community of team members helps attract and retain top remote talent.
Remote workers who feel like they belong to something more than just a workgroup may stick around longer and offer their very best to support their teammates and managers.
Here are a few ideas on how to bring everybody together:
- Create a photo challenge each week where employees post pictures of their pets, local weather events, personal projects, or nature.
- Organize a volunteer week where employees dedicate a few hours to helping their preferred philanthropic organization.
- Create a company recipe book.
- Host an annual company party via video conference.
- Train for a 5K together and share stories, tips, and gear reviews.
A community-oriented culture starts with executive leadership and infiltrates every aspect of the business. It can even influence the company’s branding and delivery of products and services.
Customers often sense when company leaders genuinely care about their employees and when the employees sincerely support the company mission. Thus, customer loyalty may also improve.
4. Develop a Discipline Policy and Conflict Resolution Process
Even if you want to create a more informal work environment, boundaries are still necessary.
Establish clear policies that communicate what is expected of employees and contractors, what is unacceptable, and how conflict is managed.
Of course, it would be great if employees addressed issues themselves in a professional manner, but third-party intervention is sometimes required, especially when emotional stakes are high.
Basic conflict resolution techniques usually consist of a sequence of steps such as:
- Identify the conflict.
- Discuss the conflict.
- Gather solutions.
- Agree on a solution.
- Assign and acknowledge responsibilities.
- Follow up.
Establish a custom, streamlined method for submitting and addressing issues. Appoint one or more people to serve as impartial mediators. If no one on your team has experience in conflict mediation or resolution, look online for basic training courses and materials.
For example, CRANAPlus, a resource for remote healthcare professionals in Australia, created an online course specifically on how to manage conflict among remote teams. The course discusses everything from bullying to calming breathing techniques.
5. Lead by Example
As Cory Booker once said, “Leadership is not position or a title; it’s action and example.”
In addition to organizing and facilitating team members and tasks, telecommuting managers need to be shining examples of what is acceptable in the remote workspace.
Though team members are dispersed, many still model their communication styles based on their direct line manager’s style. Likewise, line managers tend to mimic upper management’s communication approach.
Therefore, to successfully manage remote teams and keep conflict at bay, executives, directors, and managers must execute consistent leadership in their daily communication, conflict resolution strategies, and overall treatment of colleagues.
6. Hire Nice People
Courteous and kind people are less likely to be intentionally rude or cruel to coworkers. Therefore, you decrease the chances of mistreatment and disaccord by employing professionals with good overall character.
Hire people who fulfill the job requirements, of course, but think carefully before welcoming a shark on your boat.
Here are some criteria you may want to set when hiring new candidates:
- Speaks confidently about personal strengths without showing off
- Accepts weaknesses with honesty
- Values continual personal and professional improvement
- Shows genuine interest in others and new concepts
- Helps others and doesn’t feel set above certain job duties
- Shares the limelight with others who deserve credit
- Speaks well of others and avoids gossip and slander
- Empathizes with other people’s experiences and situations
In addition to all the technical details of the job, make a list of the type of person you want on the team. Think about the team member’s personality, communication style, mannerisms, and self-representation. When you find qualified candidates to interview, use your list of personal traits to determine which individuals best fit the team’s vibe.
7. Onboard New Employees and Provide Annual Refresher Training
Each new member of the team should go through a structured onboarding process. Onboarding helps remote workers see the bigger picture and learn the names of key people in the organization.
Include rudeness, conflict resolution, and expected workplace communication and behavior as part of the onboarding process.
Also, consider introducing new team members by asking them to complete a short bio or upload a few words on the team’s internal website.
Extract relevant information from the onboarding materials and create an annual refresher training for all employees, upper management included. Inform everyone about any changes to the processes and how the company has improved. Keep it brief, but make sure the whole team understands the importance of discussing workplace etiquette and how to maintain and strengthen the sense of community.
8. Give Workers a Break
Telecommuters tend to work long hours for a variety of reasons. If you offer a flexible work schedule, it’s up to your employees to set their hours, manage their time, and complete their tasks. However, encourage your remote workers to take weekends and holidays off. If team members prefer to work on the weekends, then suggest that they take two days off each week to relax or do something they enjoy.
Are you part of a remote team that keeps regular business hours? Schedule an occasional virtual lunch or let everybody clock out a couple of hours early one day. Consider offering flex-time to workers who want to work four 10-hour days or swap Mondays for Saturdays.
Supporting your employees lives outside of work and granting them time flexibility increases job satisfaction and energizes their spirits.
Plus, the more your workers rest and relax, the less likely they are to burn out or get sick. Preventing burnout and illness is a surefire way to maintain productivity. As always, allow workers to share the highlights of their lives by posting pictures or funny stories on the chat board.
9. Reward Your People
Make your team feel valuable by letting them know you appreciate their effort. Offer incentives for exceptional performance, high achievements, good deeds, and personal accomplishments. Acknowledge your employees for their hard work and commitment to the company. Present awards at an annual virtual company party and send thank-you cards via snail mail on occasion.
Remember: Rewards don’t always have to be grand gestures. Sometimes, small daily acts are more meaningful than prizes and gift cards.
For example, include positive feedback and encouragement in email, chat, and phone conversations. A simple “good job” can go a long way. When your remote workers understand how impactful they are to the company as a whole, they’re inspired to meet and exceed expectations and collaborate with the rest of the team.
Working Remotely Helps Avoid Conflict
Though working at home challenges your team’s communication skills, it can significantly improve overall job satisfaction and employee retention. To prevent workplace rudeness, create company policies and norms that include the following:
- Establish clear expectations and consequences for behavior.
- Develop a simple conflict resolution process to help mitigate issues and come to agreements.
- Strive to create a sense of community and keep the team in frequent communication.
- Reward accomplishments, offer schedule flexibility, and observe holidays and weekends so that your team gets a break
Most importantly, choose professionals with noble character and a drive for continual improvement. In the words of Peter Schutz, “Hire character. Train skill.”
Photo Credits: 1. iStock.com/3dts
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