Queen’s IRC has a new website and participant portal!

As Queen’s IRC’s Director of Professional Programs, I am delighted to share we have launched a new website, complete with a registration and participant portal!

We are confident you will enjoy the new functionalities, which include:

  • Programs: The ability to search for programs by category stream, location, format, and date.
  • Registration: A registration and participant portal where you can register and pay for programs, track your certificate credits, access program materials, and attend the virtual classroom. We have listened to our clients’ feedback to enhance your experience with us!
  • Thought Leadership: The ability to browse through our articles and papers, filter by subject or author, search for key words, or use the sort function to organize by date or alphabet.

To access the registration and participant portal, you will first need to create an account (instructions below). Please look out for an email from us with the email address we have on file, or contact us at irc@queensu.ca so we can confirm your email before you create an account in the new system.

Once you have confirmed your email address, visit the portal login page and click on “Create Account”. This link will direct you to submit an online form, prompting an email with instructions on setting a password. Once a password is set, you will be brought directly to the portal homepage.

Queen's IRC Portal Screenshot 1

Queen's IRC Portal Screenshot 3

We hope you enjoy the website and participant portal. The IRC team looks forward to welcoming you to our Fall programs!

Do Employees Have the Right to Work from Home?

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, global workforces experienced a sudden and forced shift into remote work. That experience dramatically shifted expectations and realities for office jobs around the world. Over the last few years, workers have often expressed a preference for working remotely, and in many cases successfully continued to negotiate work from home arrangements as labour market shortages gave employees negotiating power. However, more recent shifts in the economy have resulted in less labour shortages in certain industries, and employers are now increasingly requesting that workers return into the office, at least on part-time basis. This shift was recently highlighted in August 2023 when numerous media outlets reported that even Zoom Videoconferencing requested some of its workers attend the office at least two times per week.[1] This article will explore the rights of both employers and employees when it comes to remote work.

Download Full Article (PDF): Do Employees Have the Right to Work From Home



[1] Goldberg, Emma. “Even Zoom is Making People Return to the Office.” The New York Times. August 7, 2023. Retrieved online: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/08/07/business/zoom-return-to-office.html



Bridging Differences: Techniques for Building Conflict Competence

Interpersonal conflict is unavoidable, but the good news is there are many strategies you can develop to help strengthen your conflict resilience to make your life easier. The realities of the last few years have led to important conversations about mental health and wellness; increased stress levels have been felt far and wide and have spilled into all areas of life. Learning how to advocate for yourself, navigate challenging conversations, and effectively communicate when situations become difficult will have a direct impact on your overall sense of wellbeing. The truth is most of us have never learned the skills to manage conflict which means we need to prioritize this work for ourselves. And as Vital Smarts (the Crucial Conversations gurus) point out, we often act our worst when it matters the most.

I remember years ago, I had a colleague who had a totally different working style from mine. We were co-facilitators and together, responsible for program design. She was someone who thrived last minute; this meant she would send her materials in the night before we were set to teach, and the morning of class she would fly in at the eleventh hour, after I had been there in time to do sound checks, test computers, presentation decks, and greet participants. I was endlessly frustrated because I felt like she wasn’t detailed enough, but more than that, I didn’t feel like she was a team player or setting me up for success. I decided that she was selfish, disorganized, and unprofessional. She thought I was uptight, perfectionist, and lacked flexibility – a real recipe for success.

It got to the point where every time I interacted with this colleague I would seethe; I could feel the heat of my disrespect rising and I would do what I could to avoid her. It was around this time I was also being trained as a facilitator in the Vital Smarts Crucial Conversations program (the irony!). Through my facilitator training I was learning about my conflict style. Vital Smarts talks about the spectrum of communication as silence on one end and violence/aggression on the other. Regardless of which end of the spectrum you are prone to, either approach is an indicator that safety has been compromised. This was my AHA moment: I was on the silence end and she was on the violence end – I would shut down when things got tense and she would become more assertive. After much brooding I decided to set up a meeting with her to talk about our working styles and to explain the “why” behind how I work.  She shared the same, and with that we came up with a few ground rules. We were never close colleagues, but we did learn how to work together and sometimes that is the best you can do.

There are no hard and fast rules about how to best navigate conflict, but there are several approaches that can certainly help. These are a handful of strategies to support skill-building and confidence when confronted with challenging interactions.

1.    Understand Your ‘What’ and Your ‘Why’

A helpful starting point is to reflect on what it is about the interaction that most frustrates you to get beyond the immediate reactivity of the situation. This could be the irritation that surfaces in response to what feels like a short or snippy email, or the frustration that bubbles up when we feel like someone constantly shuts down ideas, or the annoyance felt when someone is perpetually late with their deliverables. Acknowledging the frustration is the first step, and the next is to shift focus from retaliation to getting to your root cause. The ‘what’ in this example could be that you value collaboration and teamwork and you feel that is not being respected. The ‘why’ is connected to your personal values and if someone is behaving in ways that contradict those, it is going to trigger a strong response. What is important to remember is that they likely have a different set of core values; perhaps flexibility and creativity are important to them, and they may be less deadline driven. The point is, it’s not personal, it’s about preference, and understanding the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ for all parties involved is key to managing conflict and improving interpersonal relationships.

2.    Practice Active Listening

There is not enough to be said about developing and refining your active listening skills. This is arguably one of the most under-developed leadership skills, and without listening effectively, you can never truly understand someone’s position – or their what and why. In a study by Zenger and Folkman[1] people perceive the best listeners to be those who ask questions that promote discovery and insight. They also found that good listening was “characterized by the creation of a safe environment in which issues and differences could be discussed openly” Inviting in difference as an opportunity to collaborate and ideate can be the difference between delivering mediocre results vs. knocking a project out of the park.

There are a few more tactical strategies you can employ when practicing active listening. Developing the skill of paraphrasing is a great way to demonstrate you are listening, and it will also test your understanding of what is being communicated.  Non-verbal cues can also provide a lot of insight into emotion; pay attention to tone of voice, body language, and facial expressions which can be very revealing. You can mirror back emotion by saying something like ‘I hear how passionate you are about the outcome here’, which is a powerful way of acknowledging the other person’s feelings and perspective.  One final thought is to notice your instinct to interrupt, talk over, finish someone’s sentence; or the familiar habit of focusing on your response as opposed to a powerful/insightful question.

3.    Expand Your Perspective

When we get fixated on a specific outcome, or when our focus is on trying to control someone else’s behaviour, it causes immense suffering, stress, and anxiety. Expanding your perspective by challenging your position is a strategy to alleviate your own stress and open up to different possibilities. Amy Gallo[2] suggests that we challenge our own perspective by reflecting on these questions:

  • How do I know that what I believe is true?
  • What if I’m wrong?
  • How would I change my behavior?
  • What assumptions have I made?
  • How would someone with different values and experiences see things?

Reflecting on any flaws in your perspective will create the space to improve outcomes for you and your colleagues. By asking these questions, you may also gain clarity about your your what and why, which can free you from your own limitations.

Another suggestion that is critical in expanding your awareness is to understand how your unconscious bias could be influencing – and narrowing – your perspective. One of the best tools available is the Harvard Implicit bias test[3] which is a free test that assesses attitudes or stereotypes that influence perception and behaviour. The reality is we all have biases, and being aware of, and questioning these, can make you a more effective, objective, and self-aware leader.

4.    Get Curious

When we get locked into a challenging dynamic with someone at work, we often get entrenched in negative thought patterns or a set of assumptions; suddenly everything they do becomes problematic or suspect! The reality is the magnitude of our negative judgements/assumptions are far greater than the truth of the situation. Getting curious about how your thought patterns are negatively influencing your own behaviour, and potentially feeding negative assumptions about you, can snap you out of unproductive and reactive ways of being.

5.    Have a Clear Outcome

In order to establish next steps and to find resolution, you need to understand what it is that you want. That can often be masked by the immediacy of our emotions when things are stirred up; I want this person to stop being so unreliable, I want this person to stick to the plan, to be on time… The key here is to get underneath that. Is it that you want to get the project past the finish line or is it that you want to strengthen the relationship? It could also be a longer-term goal, perhaps the outcome of this project could set you up for a promotion. You need to understand your goal post and stay focused on that and be prepared to ask for what you want, and also be prepared to compromise. Identifying and communicating a desired outcome brings clarity to the situation and can help defuse heated dynamics.

There is no perfect recipe to navigating the complexity of human relationships, especially in times of stress. What you want to do is to focus on building interpersonal resilience so that you feel less stressed when you’re engaged in a conflict. Practice with some of these strategies, start with a strategy that feels most comfortable, and remember to go easy on yourself.  You aren’t aiming for perfection; you are aiming to build your conflict competency one strategy at a time!


About the Author

Wylie BurkeWylie Burke is an innovation consultant, facilitator, and leadership coach. She has over 15 years of experience in business administration, human resources, strategic and operational planning, and leading high performing teams. She brings a unique perspective to her work, having had the pleasure of working for a diverse range of organizations including United Way Toronto, CIBC, SickKids, WSIB, and Toronto Metropolitan University. Wylie is recognized for creating inclusive environments that inspire insights, connection, fun, and shared learning, that result in personal and organizational integration. She thinks of her work as community building and recognizes that there is never a one-size-fits-all approach. It’s about learning and applying concepts in an adaptive way that brings about sustainable change, taking into account the dynamic, unique, and varied needs of individuals and organizations while also nurturing a shared understanding and appreciation of differences. Wylie holds an MBA from Queen’s University, an Honours Degree in Sociology from York University, and she is an Adler Trained Coach.

Wylie is the lead facilitator for the Queen’s IRC Strategies for Workplace Conflicts program, as well as Talent Management.



Gallo, A. (2022). How to navigate conflict with a coworker. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved August 16, 2023, from https://hbr.org/2022/09/how-to-navigate-conflict-with-a-coworker.

Grenny, J., et al. (2021). Crucial conversation: Tools for talking when stakes are high (Third). McGraw-Hill.

Project Implicit. Harvard Implicit bias test. (n.d.). Retrieved August 16, 2023, from https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html

Zenger, J., & Folkman, J. (2016, July 14). What great listeners actually do. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved August 16, 2023, from https://hbr.org/2016/07/what-great-listeners-actually-do.



[1] Zenger, J., & Folkman, J. (2016, July 14). What great listeners actually do. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved August 16, 2023, from https://hbr.org/2016/07/what-great-listeners-actually-do.

[2] Gallo, A. (2022). How to navigate conflict with a coworker. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved August 16, 2023, from


[3] Project Implicit. Harvard Implicit bias test. (n.d.). Retrieved August 16, 2023, from https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html

From Pajamas to Productivity: 5 Ways to Create a Collaborative Environment for Remote and Hybrid Work

Many organizations are now embracing remote and hybrid work models as a permanent part of their workplace. This can positively impact work-life balance for employees, improve mental health, and save costs of operating a large physical office. However, there are new challenges that come with not having employees face-to-face on a daily basis. Collaboration can be more difficult in a virtual environment, and spontaneous collaborations are in short supply in hybrid or remote formats.

With this in mind, how do we create a collaborative work environment for remote and hybrid organizations? Leaders and HR professionals can no longer presume that this will happen on its own, and they need to be very intentional in creating and supporting a collaborative workplace.

To support you on the journey of creating and maintaining a collaborative work environment, here are five building blocks of collaboration.

1. Trust Comes First

My Grandpa used to say, “Trust is not a present but a hard-earned payment.” He was a brilliant guy, and for a long time I believed this statement. But my experience as a coach and observations from many of my clients suggest that the opposite belief is what we need. Trusting others without any proof might make you feel vulnerable and exposed, but it creates a strong reciprocity effect that motivates others to go the extra mile and do their best job.

Trust your team to choose the days they will be in the office. My experience shows that given a choice, people usually make the right one, and if being in the office can produce the best results, people will figure this out. If you decide to assign mandatory office days, please do not spend half a day checking the attendance and demanding a three-page “parent note” about why they didn’t show up. Allow people to use their innovative thinking to improve the business, not to devise elaborate reasons why they couldn’t come to the office.

2. Principle of Interdependency

While independence is often emphasized as a desired trait for leaders and employees, interdependency can lead to stronger bonds, fosters better communication and improves outcomes. Erik Erikson, a prominent German-American psychoanalyst and the Pulitzer Prize winner, once said, “Life doesn’t make any sense without interdependence. We need each other, and the sooner we learn that, the better for us all.”[1]

If your team works in a hybrid format, people on site will primarily communicate and collaborate with others in the office, leaving the remote part of the team out of the loop. It happens due to a cognitive bias called proximity bias, which creates a faulty belief that people physically closest to us are more skilled and helpful. The company can create an illusion of physical presence to mitigate this bias. There are various virtual office apps based on augmented reality principles that help stay connected in real time and can be very fun to use.

One of my clients established “teamwork hours.” All team members, on and off-site, for a few hours a day, are connecting to the audio app, allowing them to talk to each other as if they were in the same room. A few months ago, they started with only 2 hours a day, and now people prefer to spend most of their work hours connected to this app. (The investment in high-quality headsets is very encouraged, though.)

3. Purpose and Belonging

According to Gusto’s report, more than half of the employees stayed at their current workplace longer than it was in their best interest because they appreciated the sense of belonging, community and a common mission.[2] Rules of social isolation and working from home made us accustomed to working in silos. Regularly talking about the company’s mission and goals, inviting everybody to participate in the conversation, creating a space for “small talks” and “water cooler discussions”, all of that helps bringing back the sense of community and connection, which in return will ignite a much higher level of collaboration.

Working in the hybrid format can sometimes feel like watching a movie created by randomly stitched together coloured and black-and-white pieces. You still get the plot, but the experience is not optimal. Regularly reminding people why the business exists in the first place, whom we serve, and how we improve other people’s lives can help to see the bigger picture.

My neighbour works as an industrial designer at the manufacturer that builds patients’ hospital beds. A few weeks ago, management organized a trip to the local hospital for engineers and designers, most of whom are working in the hybrid format. They had the chance to talk to nurses and support staff. They heard so much positive feedback about the quality and functionality of the beds and how it makes the hospital personnel’s job a bit easier. My neighbour swears he saw some tears.

4. Transparency and Vulnerability

I have always considered technology a blessing and a curse. On one side, it allows companies to hire employees from all over the globe, it is always available, and everyone is only a click away. On the other hand, remote and hybrid work forces us to rely mostly on words, taking away the whole universe of human interactions – facial expressions, body language, and behavioural clues. And it leaves too much room for interpretation and misunderstandings. That is why transparency and vulnerability is so important – it brings depth and humanity back to our communications.

  • You can start by encouraging remote employees to turn their cameras on. To stretch our boundaries of vulnerability, we need to have a safety net – to see team members’ faces. It is tough to feel safe while staring at the black hole of a faceless screen. We need to see smiles, slight nodding, and other facial cues to read the social temperature correctly. And it should start with the company’s leaders championing this approach.
  • To support transparency, managers need to pay special attention to creating clear expectations for team members: what the preferred communication channels are when working from home and in the office, what are each team member’s responsibilities, and what the most desired outcome looks like.
  • Promote a “no holding back” policy by encouraging people to speak up with feedback and ideas, ask questions, and request help when needed. Remind everybody that each team member will succeed only if the entire team will.

5. Leveling the Playing Field

This aspect is mainly relevant to hybrid work. Fear of missing out and feeling like “step-children” compare to the on-site employees is real for remote team members. A few changes to the day-to-day operations will help:

  • All important announcements are made via electronic channels first, before it’s circulated in the office.
  • It’s best for on-site employees to join meetings from their computers even if only one team member connects remotely.
  • While considering someone for a promotion, manager needs to have a list of all the employees and their achievements in front of them to mitigate a proximity bias.
  • Schedule “small talks” with your remote team members, and don’t use them to discuss work. Focus on the person instead.

It’s important to know that the ability to collaborate is not a personality trait we are born with. It is a skill that can be learned and mastered with training and support. And an admission like “I am just not a people person” is not enough to declare someone as “a lost cause.” It just means that the right approach hasn’t been found yet.

Creating a collaborative workplace takes time, patience, planning and a try-fail-pivot-try approach. But when done with full buy-in from the front-line employees and consistent support from the C-level executives, it can take the company to the next level of success while keeping people happy, energized and excited about their work.

And with 86% of employees naming lack of collaboration as a main source of workplace failures[3], I believe investing human and financial resources into developing and maintaining the culture of collaboration within your company will bring impressive and consistent ROI.

About the Author

Jenny BarkanJenny Barkan, ACC is a certified business coach, specializing in leadership skills development and creation of employee experience. Her educational background is law and psychology, but her passion has always been to help people to live better lives while they are at work and outside of work. Jenny is a big supporter of science-based coaching and often shares the latest developments in neuroscience during her workshops, facilitation and coaching. In her spare time, she is a devoted dog mom, a bit of a bookworm and a wine lover.




Employees cite lack of collaboration for workplace failures. Fierce. (2011). Retrieved August 16, 2023, from https://www.fierceinc.com/employees-cite-lack-of-collaboration-for-workplace-failures/#:~:text=86%20percent%20of%20respondents%20blame,will%20impact%20bottom%20line%20results

Erikson, E. H. (n.d.). Erik H. Erikson quotes (author of childhood and society). Goodreads. Retrieved August 16, 2023,  from https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/31652.Erik_H_Erikson.

Gusto Report: Community at work. gusto. (2016) . Retrieved August 16, 2023, from https://go.gusto.com/rs/110-WOX-868/images/Framework_Community_at_Work_Survey_final.pdf

Kellogg Murray, J. (2023, February 16). Five things people miss the most about the office. Indeed. Retrieved August 16, 2023, from https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/covid-19-what-people-miss-most-about-office-work



[1] Erikson, E. H. (n.d.). Erik H. Erikson quotes (author of childhood and society). Goodreads. Retrieved August 16, 2023,  from https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/31652.Erik_H_Erikson.

[2] Gusto Report: Community at work. gusto. (2016) . Retrieved August 16, 2023, from https://go.gusto.com/rs/110-WOX-868/images/Framework_Community_at_Work_Survey_final.pdf.

[3] Employees cite lack of collaboration for workplace failures. Fierce. (2011). Retrieved August 16, 2023, from https://www.fierceinc.com/employees-cite-lack-of-collaboration-for-workplace-failures/#:~:text=86%20percent%20of%20respondents%20blame,will%20impact%20bottom%20line%20results

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