COVID-19 has been referred to as a “time machine to the future.”  Many businesses recognise that that the pandemic has provided the opportunity for them to review their current strategy and look at different possibilities. No matter what the scale of the review, businesses and organisations are likely to encounter conflicts as they head towards their future.
Change2020 has seen how COVID-19 has produced heightened anxiety and stress levels for both employers and employees as they navigate an unfamiliar present and an uncertain future. All these factors create the conditions for conflict and strife in the workplace. We outline below some examples of the types of conflict that we have seen, why this conflict has arisen; and advice from our experts on how it can be addressed.
Organisations over the past 18 months have already experienced many examples of conflict. In the early stages of 2020 when remote working suddenly became mainstream as opposed to discretionary, some leaders struggled with remote management which suddenly required a very different skill set than the face-to-face approach that they were used to. Also in many situations, leaders were forced to make the transition quickly with limited training. For many workers, they did not have a suitable home office and/or during lockdown periods had overwhelming family commitments to contend and compete with. This applied to leaders and team members alike, who faced these struggles at the same time with varying degrees of effectiveness. 
Now, as many organisations start to return their employees to work in central offices, other issues can arise providing potential conflict with managers and staff both returning to a slightly different workplace. Beyond just being able to return to work, once back at work, there are also changed roles and work functions, plus in many cases the removal of jobs/areas which also have the potential to generate conflict. The “water cooler” talk of the past will slowly return, often resulting in mixed messaging, or biased views of change within the organisation, and creating cracks in the culture of the “new workplace”.
At Change2020, we believe now more than ever we need to support organisations and the individuals that make up those businesses, to navigate the conflicts that might arise as we move towards this “new workplace”. Our People Risk experts come ready to focus in on managing the human face of industrial and workplace relations, change management, conflict resolution and mediation to support and ‘steady the ship’ during uncertain times allowing leaders to focus ahead.
Ms Shiv Martin, our conflict and mediation expert, shares her insights on the three conflict and mediation skillsets that she utilises to assist organisations to navigate conflict in the workplace:
“We are managing an increasing level of high conflict behaviour and unreasonable demands, while adjusting to new work environments and managing our own personal challenges. In this climate, mediators and dispute resolution experts have an immense role to play. Our ability to drive fair processes, explore underlying interests and communicate with empathy is key to surviving conflict resolution across the public and private industry sector. Now more than ever the following three areas of dispute resolution practice play an essential role”:Shiv Martin
- A Fair Process Guarantee
Even if you cannot give someone the outcome that they want, you can guarantee a fair and accessible process. A good mediator does not dictate the terms of an agreement, but they fiercely control the process with independence, impartiality, and an uncompromising commitment to fairness. By establishing a fair process mindset, this ensures individuals understand and are understood before any decisions are made. In this way, while an individual may not get what they wanted, they feel they have been heard and treated fairly – a crucial component to ensuring trust in the process, and ultimately the outcome.
- Identifying underlying interests
Taking time to consider why someone is seeking a particular outcome and identifying their underlying interests is the key to an effective negotiation process. Mediators conduct comprehensive exploration processes specifically for this purpose alone. Interest-based conversations that involve canvassing all options, before proposing outcomes, and separating people and relationship issues from the problem at hand, is second nature for most mediators. These skills must also be used as a means of ensuring outcomes that add value and are more likely to be accepted by stakeholders. Often when workload increases, organisations resort to formal, legalistic and template correspondence. However, in doing this we lose the great value we can gain from collaborative, interest-based negotiations.
- Understanding High Conflict Behaviour
Just knowing that difficult and unreasonable behaviour often comes out of fear and vulnerability assists to manage high conflict behaviour. Understanding why some individuals behave in an irrational way and developing strategies to calm and engage with them in a collaborative way is another essential component of conflict resolution.
As a dispute-resolution practitioner, I have witnessed and appreciate the importance of these three key areas. Add to this the ‘new normal’ of Pandemic world, we are experiencing unprecedented change in our personal and professional lives – a period where we are struggling to cope with a climate of uncertainty and heightened emotional, financial and psychological distress.”
This article with thanks to contributions by Ms Shiv Martin. Change2020 Associate, Mediator, Facilitator and expert in helping government and community organisations in navigating conflict and building stronger relationships.