5 Common (Remote) Workplace Conflicts — and How to Address Them

January 4, 2021 The Washington Center

5 Common (Remote) Workplace Conflicts — and How to Address Them

Working remotely comes with perks — and challenges. Here’s how to navigate workplace conflict during your remote internship.

For more than half a year now, millions of people have been working remotely due to COVID-19 — and it’s looking like that won’t change any time soon. Many companies have wholly embraced this new way of working. Some, like Facebook, have even allowed employees to start working from home permanently.

This shift in workplace culture affects internships, too, as many will be remote. While this is good news, because it means you still have ample opportunity to explore career paths and build up experience, the truth is working remotely can be tricky to navigate at times.

Here at The Washington Center, we’re prepared to help you succeed at your remote internship, no matter where you’re working from — with any internship you secure through us, you’ll also get a career advisor who will guide you through any issues you may face. Plus, our Internship Bill of Rights, which is in place at every internship site of ours, is set up to ensure both you and the company you intern for have a high-impact and mutually beneficial internship experience.

5 Common Workplace Conflicts You May Encounter (And How to Address Them)

Whether you’re dealing with receiving a snarky email, missing a deadline or making a mistake on a project, some level of conflict in the workplace is inevitable.  

And of course, working remotely comes with its own set of unique challenges. 

With that being said, here are some of the common workplace conflicts you may encounter during your remote internship, including tips for how to address each one.

1. You Don’t Know What You’re Supposed to Be Doing

Whether it’s at the beginning of your internship or a few weeks in, one day you find yourself with, well, nothing to do. This can be a bit nerve wracking, as you always want to do your job — and do it well — and you also want to make sure you’re making a good impression. So, before you throw in the towel and turn on Netflix, there are a few things you should do.

First, review all the work you’ve done so far to see if there’s anything else you can do to make it even better. Next, revisit any onboarding materials you’ve been given to make sure you’ve fulfilled all the responsibilities listed. Lastly, if you’re still grasping at straws, ask your manager and other colleagues if they need assistance with anything.

A few ways to prevent this type of situation from happening in the future? At the start of your internship, meet with your supervisor to review your daily, weekly and overall goals. Ask if there are any spare projects or tasks you should work on when you find yourself with free time. In addition, set up a weekly touch base with your manager so you can update them on your progress, ask any questions you may have and make sure all your bases are covered.

Collaborative planning and frequent communication can go a long way in making sure you meet — and exceed — expectations.

2. You Don’t Know How to Do Something

Here’s the thing: This is completely normal! You’re not expected to come into a new gig knowing how to do every single thing. If that was the case, it wouldn’t really be a great growth opportunity for you, would it?

If you find yourself struggling with a task, don’t panic. Try your hardest to figure it out. If you’re supposed to create a graphic for Instagram, for example, and you’ve never done that before, search the internet for YouTube tutorials and free online tools you can use. If the organization you’re working for already has an Instagram account, scroll through their previous posts to get a feel for their aesthetic. Complete the assignment — or parts of it — to the best of your ability.

If you’ve done everything you can and still can’t figure out how to move forward, don’t hesitate to ask someone on your team. They’d rather you ask questions than sit there getting nothing done. The key, though, is to make sure you’ve put in a solid attempt at figuring it out yourself before seeking help. They want to see that you’ve made an effort.

3. You Made a Mistake

Look, people of all levels mess up. You don’t want blunders to be your calling card, but when you do make a mistake, don’t be too hard on yourself. Instead, take action in the following ways.

  • Try to fix it. Do your best to salvage the situation. If you missed a deadline, complete the project immediately. If you sent a project in, but completely forgot to include a crucial component, send an updated version with an explanation. If you sent an email to the wrong person, send it to the right one and explain your mixup to the wrong one.
  • Own up to it. Pretending it never happened can end up backfiring on you, big time. Instead, tell your boss what happened and how you’re rectifying the situation. Of course, they’re not going to be overjoyed you made a mistake, but they’ll appreciate the honesty and accountability.  
  • Figure out why the mistake was made. Did you forget to write the task down? Did you not listen clearly in a meeting? Were you rushing to get things done? Identify the root of the cause, then take the necessary steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

4. Someone Seems Mad at You

Perhaps one of the toughest things about interning remotely is correctly interpreting people’s tones and intentions when you’re communicating with them via email or chat. It’s simply a different ball game than talking to them in person or on a video or phone call.

When you receive an email that seems curt, irritated or downright angry, remind yourself of these few things:

  • Personality and warmth can get lost in translation when interacting via email or chat.
  • People are busy and likely just trying to press send as quickly as they can.
  • Most times, work is simply work, and it’s not to be taken personally.
  • Even if you made a mistake, there’s no justification for someone being nasty to you.

If you think it’s a bigger issue — say the individual is consistently rude to you via email (at least in your interpretation) — invite them to a virtual coffee date to get to know them better and clear any air that needs clearing.

If someone is explicitly mean to you time and time again, raise the issue with your manager. If the hostile person is your manager, considering consulting with your advisor about how to move forward. No one should work in a toxic environment.

5. You Feel Like You’re Working All the Time

When you can’t physically separate your work life from your home life, it can be easy to fall into the trap of working, well, every possible moment. But this is not good for any aspect of your health — at all.

You must be able to take time for yourself each day, not just for the basic needs like eating meals and brushing your teeth, but also to spend time unwinding and partaking in hobbies you love. Here’s how to avoid getting caught up in the grind.

  • Set a schedule for yourself and stick to it. Along with your site supervisor, decide the specific hours you’ll work each day of the week and only work during those times. 
  • Set up a specific workspace. Whether it’s a corner of your dining table or a desk in your room, only sit there when working. When it’s time to stop working for the day, log out of your work email, close any work-related browsers, and move to a different spot.
  • Discuss your workload with your manager. If you simply can’t fit your responsibilities into your allotted hours, meet with your supervisor to try and figure out ways you could be more efficient or if there’s anything that can be taken off your plate. 

Dealing with any type of conflict isn’t fun, but with these tips, we hope you feel a little bit more comfortable doing so. Good luck — you’ve got this!

About the Author

The Washington Center

The Washington Center is the largest and most established student internship program in Washington, D.C. Since our founding, we've helped more than 60,000 young people translate their college majors into career paths. We use our scale and expertise to customize each student’s experience to be truly transformative.

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