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Two years into working in this remote-hybrid world, it seems that we’re missing something.

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It both works... and it doesn't. We've proven we can get our jobs done, but we’ve made trade-offs along the way. We’ve heard plenty about missing the culture and serendipity of passing each other in the hallway, but I want to laser in on one really important missing piece: we’re missing the days of in-person arguments. More importantly, we’re missing the paths to resolution that build lasting relationships.

Jellyfish

I miss the arguments.

Let's say that we have a disagreement. Maybe the discussion gets really heated and it’s still that way at the end of the meeting. In the ‘before times’, being in the same place would prompt us to stay in the room to see it through. Or maybe I'd go to my desk and you’d walk with me down the hallway to conclude the debate. And if we couldn’t do that, maybe we scowl at each other through conference room windows for a few hours until we eventually pull each other aside and squash it.

At the end of this, we both understand where the other was coming from, we’re both committed to finding common reasoning, and the earlier decision becomes more refined and nuanced. Plainly speaking, you and I – and the company – are better for it.

Arguing virtually lacks resolution.

Now let’s consider today’s world where everyone is virtual. We’re in the middle of an argument and approaching the end of the Zoom meeting. We booked an hour, and we’re both in back-to-back meetings. Guess what? The meeting ends and we don’t finish it. Neither of us has the energy to stay on and we think to ourselves, ‘We'll solve it the next time we meet.'

Sure, we could just chase each other on the phone when we get a free minute. But the more friction there is, the less likely that is to happen. Instead, we end up stewing on it, and we all know that’s not healthy – for me, you, or the company.

The bottom line: I miss fighting because I worry we’re not building deep, creative solutions or flexing our conflict resolution muscles. Arguments used to be resolved faster, and we used to be better for having them. Going through the process of disagreements to resolution in person helps build more optimal decisions and strong bonds between all of us. It’s how we persevere through the tough times. Now we have fewer opportunities to do so. As leaders, we need to enable our companies and teams to grow, and maybe that means a bit more conflict./p>

Three ways to foster healthy conflict remotely

Let's face it, in many organizations remote will never be ideal. But there are a few things we can do to add more time, space, and expectations for having – and resolving – real, honest arguments.

  1. Cap meetings at 25 or 50 minutes
    Before going remote, many companies used this to give people a little breathing room between meetings. In a remote setting, we thought maybe we didn't need that breathing room, but let's reconsider. Padding our calendars gives everyone an extra five or ten minutes to work through unresolved arguments.
  2. Prioritize argument resolution in your day
    It sounds mundane, but keep tabs on your debates, track down the important ones, and see them through before the end of the day – even if that means another meeting or phone call. Let's get creative. If we're going to be remote or hybrid for the long haul, we'd better make it work for us.
  3. Invest time in team building
    Be intentional about giving your remote teammates opportunities to bond. Folks need to feel comfortable with each other so they can have disagreements without taking them personally. Team-building activities give everyone a chance to disagree and debate about non-work issues, which can feed back into their working relationships.

Building a remote culture of healthy conflict won’t happen overnight but being aware of why it’s important is a great first step. And these practical tips will help speed up the process. Here's to a few more productive arguments in the next year. And in the meantime, maybe Zoom will work on a new ‘argument mode’ feature…

Jellyfish