As more companies adopt remote policies, remote working presents new challenges for leaders. Internal issues and conflicts arise in every team. But how can you resolve conflicts where you are present virtually? This article explains how to prevent and solve conflicts that arise in a remote team.
Conflicts are a natural result of people working together. Since conflicts can cause tension, it impacts not only the individuals involved, but also the entire team’s morale and engagement.
According to a survey, nearly 38% of employees in the U.K. have experienced interpersonal conflict at work in an average year. Therefore, it is essential to ensure that conflicts are prevented or resolved at an early stage.
Conflicts are even more likely to occur and tougher to resolve in a remote team when your team members aren’t co-located. You miss the cues that you usually get in an office setting and there’s no easy way to get everyone at one place and resolve the issue(s).
Thus, preventing and resolving conflict is an important aspect of managing remote teams.
Before looking at the steps to prevent and solve conflicts, let us first understand why conflicts may arise in a remote team.
Why conflicts may arise in a remote team
Remote workers often feel isolated and are more likely to be uninhibited. Since they can’t see who they are talking to, they are more likely to pour out their feelings and emotions without giving it much thought.
Further, the distance makes them feel invisible and detached, so they are not affected by the other person’s emotional reaction or position of authority. Psychologists refer to this as the online inhibition effect. Therefore, remote workers are more likely to cause conflict.
Managing conflicts isn’t always easy, but there are several steps that you can take to resolve them. Even though conflict resolution and management are difficult for some, they can be learned.
In order to handle conflicts effectively, remote leaders should have a conflict management strategy in place to guide them through these challenging situations. Lastly, remote leaders should proactively prevent, acknowledge, and resolve conflicts before they negatively impact the morale of their teams. The following are some tips to prevent conflicts in your remote team.
How to prevent conflicts in your remote team
Conflicts in teams should be prevented before they occur. So, here are a few actions you can take as a leader to prevent conflicts and keep your remote team working smoothly.
While working remotely, trust forms the foundation of working. Successful remote teams share one trait — they trust their team implicitly. Trust shifts the focus entirely to the end outcome, since that is the only tangible aspect we can all see. As a result, your team can concentrate on things that matter most — to actually accomplish things rather than just posturing.
In the office, communication is easier since your team members are near to you. But while working remotely, the ability to communicate with other people is limited. This makes managing a distributed team quite challenging. That’s why effective communication is vital in a remote team.
Make sure your team members send regular updates when working remotely. Remember that over-communication is always a better option than under-communication.
Communicate the team culture
In a remote team, mere documentation of your team’s culture isn’t enough. It must be routinely brought up in meetings and as part of conversations between leaders and new hires.
Furthermore, be vocal about the team’s culture both internally and publicly. Publish blogs that discuss what your company believes in and any new initiatives that are taken to promote them. It is also a good idea to let others in the team write about their experiences.
Even if they write on a topic that indicates the need for internal improvement, it reflects positively on the company – demonstrating transparency and the willingness to identify areas of improvement.
These initiatives enable employees to better understand the culture of the firm not only from internal communication but also from external sources. Furthermore, it establishes the company as a thought leader in its field, positively impacting your ability to attract the best talent.
7 ways to solve conflicts in your remote team
While conflicts are inevitable, it is important to know the steps that you can do to manage such situations. As a remote leader, you need to be able to manage conflict effectively. But how can you do that when your team is working remotely from a different location? Here are some 7 ways to help you solve conflicts in your remote team.
Acknowledge the conflict
In order to resolve the issue, you must first acknowledge it. Avoiding the issue and ignoring it will only make matters worse. In response, you should schedule a meeting with the concerned members and have a detailed discussion on what happened.
As a leader, it is your responsibility to listen carefully to the views of everyone involved and guide them towards finding a solution that everyone can agree on. Finally, and most importantly, provide feedback and guidance on how to avoid similar situations in the future.
Empathy is one of the most valuable qualities a leader should possess. Employees are generally not comfortable talking about conflicts with their superiors, since they fear that they will create a negative impact or worse, that they will be punished for their actions.
By being empathetic, you demonstrate that you are approachable, open-minded and willing to listen to their concerns. As a result, employees will be more likely to reach out to you if any problems arise within the team.
Define roles and responsibilities
The most common cause of conflict is when there are limited guidelines and conflicting responsibilities among the team members. Therefore, it is important to manage your remote team by setting a clear framework that all team members must adhere to. Few questions to immediately address are:
- What channels should be used for sharing information between employees?
- Who is the team leader responsible for the progress of the projects?
- How is the team going to maintain an inclusive culture?
Keeping detailed documents removes any scope of misalignment and allows you to immediately address miscommunication. To be better prepared, it is also a good idea to draft a conflict resolution plan. Having a conflict management plan shows that you are well prepared in case issues arise within the team.
Encourage regular feedback
In order to identify and resolve conflicts, regular feedback within remote teams is essential. Getting feedback is easy when all employees share the same office space. However, for remote teams to feel that they have a voice, a concerted effort is needed.
To overcome the physical distance, team members must make a special effort to communicate their feelings and to gauge their impact on others.
So in remote teams, a structured feedback process needs to be in place. The use of tools such as 6Q can help you obtain feedback from your team members. This could involve regular questionnaires and anonymous surveys to receive opinions on existing processes, challenges faced, and areas of improvement.
Foster teamwork and empathy
Empathy is the ability to understand how other people are feeling at present. Encourage your remote team to understand a situation from the other person’s perspective and to act with compassion.
The ability to show empathy at a remote workplace creates a positive work environment and results in more effective communication between individuals.
After a conflict, the team’s morale generally drops low. As a next step, you should motivate your team and create a healthy working environment. Recognising team accomplishments is a proven method of boosting morale. Employees appreciate it when their company notices and rewards them for their efforts.
Leaders should not be the only ones to recognise achievements, but the team as a whole should participate in such events. By involving your entire team to celebrate each other’s hard work, not only will you reduce tensions but also inspire them to work as a team to achieve success together.
Conduct team-building activities
When working remotely, we only interact with a digital representation of a person. Although many of the above initiatives can improve the quality of relationships in the team, none can compare to the bonds formed when people meet in person. This makes a strong case for team offsites.
If that is not an option, you can also encourage team members to participate in something not related to work. This could be having fun trivia sessions or team building games.
The idea is to have informal interactions in a non-work environment to get to know individuals on a deeper level. Offsites and team building activities promote strong bonds between team members and help retain talent while also creating a positive work environment.
In a remote workplace, conflicts are not something that can be resolved in one go. As such, there are always going to be conflicts and internal issues that arise periodically — there is no avoiding that. Being able to deal with conflicts is one of the most important aspects of your job.
As a final thought, remember that team conflicts are inevitable, but what you do when they occur matters. Going forward, you need to support your team members and make sure that the right practices are being followed. Finally, take advantage of such situations to build an even stronger and more productive team.
About the Author
Shahul Rashik is a community lead at Remote Clan & Remote Tools. He’s passionate & writes actively about remote working, startups and technology.