Returned to work: How to defuse workplace conflict?

Many companies are now implementing mandatory return-to-office policies, marking a significant shift from the remote work trend of the past few years. While some have adopted a hybrid work setup, others have transitioned back to full-time office work. Nevertheless, the experience of working from home has fundamentally altered our work habits and communication with colleagues. As we readjust to the once-familiar office environment, conflicts may arise due to these changes.

Imagine walking toward your office desk, only to find yourself seated in an uncomfortable chair in a cramped office cubicle while your colleagues enjoy more spacious workstations. Or perhaps you’ve grown unaccustomed to the noise and distraction of a bustling office. Whatever conflict employees may face upon returning to work, it’s essential to address them proactively before they escalate further.

Below, we have listed possible conflicts that may arise when transitioning back to the office, along with some suggestions on how to address them:

Desk or workspace disputes

Two employees engaged in a heated discussion at their office desks, gesturing passionately while surrounded by paperwork and office supplies.

Conflict: Employees may compare desk assignments or office space.

Solution: Implement a fair space allocation system. Consider creating shared workspace, providing comfortable office furnishings, and encouraging flexibility to choose workstations.

Communication difference

An employee conveying urgent information over the telephone, expressing strong emotions.

Conflict: People may have become accustomed to written communication and may struggle with in-person verbal interactions.

Solution: Offer training on effective in-person communication, encourage team-building activities and create open channels for feedback.

Noise and distractions

Focused employees working on their computers.

Conflict: Employees may find it challenging to adjust to the noisy office environment.

Solution: Create a dedicated quiet or focus area, install a phonebooth, provide noise-canceling headphones, or allow flexible working hours to accommodate different working styles.

Meeting overload

Employees gathered inside a conference room, engaged in a productive meeting.

Conflict: Returning to the office can possibly lead to having more meetings, which some employees will find unproductive or overwhelming.

Solution: Prioritize crucial meetings, set clear objectives, and make use of digital tools to provide updates. It’s also important to implement meeting norms and encourage employees to decline non-essential meetings to streamline schedules and improve productivity.

Resistance to change

A woman with crossed arms wearing a sad expression.

Conflict: People may resist returning to the office because they prefer to work remotely.

Solution: Give them the flexibility where possible and encourage them to be part of the decision-making processes.

Respect for boundaries

Top view of laptops and hands busy at work.

Conflict: Coworkers may invade personal boundaries or fail to respect personal space.

Solution: Consider physical workspace adjustment like sound masking or using demountable walls to create more focus space and educate employees on respecting personal boundaries.

The return to the office is not merely a routine adjustment but a substantial transition for both employees and organization alike. Both parties play essential roles in making sure that they proactively recognize potential conflicts and implement solutions.

Employers can start by soliciting feedback from their workforce, gauging individual concerns and preferences, and tailoring their return-to-office plans accordingly. Implementing flexible work arrangements, hybrid models, or staggered return schedules can help accommodate employees' needs and alleviate some of the stress associated with the return. Furthermore, clear communication, comprehensive safety protocols, and mental health support initiatives are essential components of a successful transition strategy. By taking these measures, organizations can foster a productive and harmonious work environment, ultimately benefiting both the business and its employees.