9 Tips for Navigating Remote Team Conflict

Avatar by Amy Steinberg Published Oct 1, 2019 Last updated Oct 22, 2019

When there is workplace conflict in the traditional sense, it’s fallen to managers and leaders to address the problem in person and find a solution that suits everyone.

But with today’s growing remote workforce, managing workplace conflict among remote team members can be quite challenging. If your bioinformatics team isn’t in the same time zone as your writers, conflicts can arise simply out of these logistical issues.

There are ways, however, to mitigate these and other team conflicts, even with remote teams.

Causes of Workplace Conflict

Not everyone can be happy 100 percent of the time – people have bad days, no matter where they are in the world. But when workplace conflict arises, experts suggest there are four common causes:

  1. Misunderstandings
  2. Poor Communication
  3. Lack of Planning
  4. Frustration/Stress/Burnout

With a remote workforce, each of these issues can cause trouble between colleagues just as in a traditional office environment.

Establish Open Communications

When there is workplace conflict, it’s important that professionals feel comfortable reaching out. That’s why leaders and managers need to assure their teams that it’s okay – even encouraged – to talk to them if they feel something is amiss. This is one way to be preemptive when it comes to dealing with conflict.

Understand The Problem

Workplace conflict in a physical location can occur based on personality differences or the actions and attitudes between colleagues.

However, when it comes to remote work, the likelihood of the conflict being because of these things is considerably less because a lot of this conflict will begin with communication. Or, more aptly, miscommunication, which is easy to do when communicating through digital channels.

If professional approaches you with a conflict about a remote colleague, find out first if the conflict is simply a matter of miscommunication. Since emails, internal messages, and other ways of online communication don’t allow for facial expressions, body language, or gestures, sometimes intention or context can be misinterpreted.

Train Managers In What to Look For

Your team managers know their team members best. For this reason, if they see changes in a team member that is inconsistent with prior work habits, it could signify some kind of problem or conflict. According to experts, there are stages of escalation when it comes to conflict so if your managers start seeing, for example, a typically lighthearted professional suddenly begin to shut down and stop communicating, it’s crucial to address the issue.

Teach Professionals To Assume Positive Intent

It can be difficult to assess what someone from a different culture, in a different part of the world, meant when they said something you didn’t understand clearly. That’s why instructing professionals to always assume positive intent can prevent a small miscommunication from turning into a full-blown conflict.

According to CEO Bruce Eckfeldt, assuming positive intent involves:

  • Stepping back and taking a deep breath
  • Evaluating what is happening
  • Assessing any opportunities

He says assuming positive intent has the advantage of turning negatives into positives.

Discourage Professionals from Minimizing

What might seem like a minor annoyance can build up and escalate into something much bigger. Encourage your professionals to communicate things that cause them to feel annoyed or uncomfortable, even if it seems like its “no big deal.”

This allows leaders to step in and determine what, if any, action needs to be taken before things get out of hand.

Be Clear and Realistic About Conflict Resolution

Even the best conflict resolution plans won’t work if two individuals are like oil and water. Not everyone gets along – and that’s okay. The purpose of working on a team is to get the work done, not to make lifelong friends (although if that happens, great!).

Be sure your professionals understand that they don’t have to be friends with colleagues with whom they don’t get along; they simply need to be able to respect their contributions to the organization and be able to work with them.

Be Strategic When Building Teams

If you have a particularly ambitious team member, they can come across as abrasive and detached to someone who is more emotionally vested in what’s going on with a project. Conversely, someone who is quiet, may not be best paired with another person of few words. Consider the personalities and work habits of team members before grouping them to make sure you get the best of everyone.

Establish a Virtual Water Cooler

In a traditional office, the water cooler is the go-to spot for professionals to meet and greet, discuss things going on, and relax together. Having a virtual water cooler where professionals can voice concerns, share thoughts and ideas, or simply share something personal happening in their life is a great way for team members to get to know one another despite their time zones.

Celebrate Together

Regardless of where your team members are located, certainly they will experience milestones in their lives and careers. Celebrating with your teams not only help remote team members get to know what’s going on in their colleagues’ lives, but also helps professionals to feel valued. 

You can have virtual holiday parties and add elements of fun that make professionals feel more connected outside of the office. This idea can go even further by celebrating different holidays from countries outside of your home base, helping each culture on your team to understand the cultures of others.

Remote work enables today’s professionals to have dynamic teams that span the world. And while this leads to innovation, creativity, and productivity, the chance for conflict will always be there. The key is to try to be preemptive to prevent conflict from happening and having policies in place to quickly resolve anything that may arise. 

When your professionals feel comfortable addressing conflict, your teams will be more cohesive and productive, no matter where they are located.

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