As more companies adopt the remote work policy, presenting new problems for leaders, one of which is internal conflict within the team. Solving internal problems for on-site work systems is simpler because they meet daily and can immediately solve problems. But how do we resolve issues for remote teams?
Conflict is a natural result of people working together. According to a survey by CIPD, nearly 38% of UK employees experience interpersonal conflict at work. Conflict can also significantly impact a team's productivity and morale, so it's vital to understand how to deal with it.
In remote teams, problems arise more often. You may miss the cues you usually get in an on-site environment as a leader. And again, it's not easy to gather an entirely remote team in one place to solve problems. But, before diving any further, you need to understand what causes conflicts in a remote team.
What causes conflicts in remote teams
Almost every company has the same type of conflict. However, some issues teams face in managing conflict include all the unique ways conflict can fester and grow in a remote team.
1. Communication problems
In remote-friendly companies, written communications tend to be normal. Some people are even more comfortable communicating through writing than having to make phone calls.
But, sometimes, what's meant to be a short, brief, and straight-to-the-point message can come across as rude or demeaning. Even though the sender didn't mean it that way, we all know it's hard to set the tone in an email or a text message.
2. Flying blind
An error can occur in even the clearest communications. The lack of tools to define goals is the most frequent cause.
Some companies have tried to use graphs and charts to explain information, but teams sometimes don't tell whether they understand or not. Employees may lose their way if the communication you rely on is only through writing.
3. Online disinhibition effect
You must be aware that remote work feels like "working alone" because you don't get to see your co-workers daily. You miss the moment to chat in the pantry about weekend plans or where to have lunch.
Although some people hate personal life chatter, these random moments will build an intimate connection between the team. When distance separates teams, they are not affected by the emotional reactions or positions of authority of others. Psychologists call this conflict the Online Disinhibition Effect.
What makes it difficult to detect
People tend to express discord with body language and expressions. When leaders have sensed this friction, they can take action to resolve it. And this is not happening only in a remote team. Conflict is difficult to detect because:
- Some believe that people should resolve problems face-to-face.
- Remote teams often hide behind computers, leaving issues simmering and unresolved.
10 Ways to Overcome Conflict in remote Teams
While difficult, it is essential to deal with virtual problems. Without the right strategy, conflicts will bubble up and hurt every line. Here are ten practical steps that can help you resolve remote team conflicts:
1. Resolve the problem right away
People can react aggressively without looking at people's expressions when communicating. Simply put, misconceptions in written conversation lead to a series of unexpected feedback. Before problems arise or even after they occur, try to resolve the problem right away by using video conference.
Video allows team members to explain what they want to convey without offending. Each team member can see the expressions of others so that they can communicate in real-time. Many video conferencing software can be an excellent hack for solving many remote team issues.
2. Hold daily online meetings
Meetings are one way to meet face-to-face remote workers. Virtual meetings enable bonding and allow them to build trust. People tend to be more forgiving of people they know, right?
Leaders can also use these online meetings as a way to resolve conflicts. To make meetings effective, set a plan and let everyone have an opinion. A team member should share their feelings about what is going on.
3. Spread positive energy
Bringing positive vibes to every person is essential when dealing with remote teams. As simple as saying “thank you” or “nice talking to you”, shows mutual respect.
Another way to keep engaged is by occasionally sending them funny videos or memes. Funny videos and memes can break the tension after a conflict and boost the mood at work.
4. Acknowledging the conflict
Before you tackle a problem, you have to acknowledge it first. Remember, avoiding the problem will only make things worse. You must listen carefully to the opinions of all the people involved in the situation and help find solutions. You have to be neutral regarding problems in a remote team.
5. Have a plan for managing conflict
Problems don't come once. You need to have a clear plan to manage it. Here are three simple steps for managing conflict:
- Identify the problem. Take time to talk to all parties involved.
- Get all parties in a virtual meeting. Act as a mediator or invite someone to act as a mediator. Instil the trait that everyone should listen to.
- Confirm outcomes in writing so that all parties can agree on them. Sometimes you need a follow-up meeting, and it's not a problem.
6. Set-up team building opportunities
An effective way to handle further conflicts is to bring a team informally. Of course, this is challenging, but this activity can break the tension and awkward situation.
You can try some virtual activities such as Remote Work Bingo, Mafia Games, Can You Hear Me Now? etc. This opportunity will help the team break down individual silos and foster a sense of community.
7. Encourage feedback
In remote teams, a structured feedback process is vital. Providing an anonymous survey can help obtain feedback from others. Team members should make an effort to communicate their feelings and measure their impact on others.
8. Look out for changes in communication behaviour
Being remote workers requires people to be more sensitive. This includes identifying behavioural changes in chat or emails. For example, a sign when a team member uses emojis but suddenly makes a short reply like 'OK' or 'Got it.'
The same thing applies to group chat. A reluctant team member to engage with an individual could worsen matters. Leaders should start proactively by carefully asking relevant questions.
9. Give the team space to voice their concerns
Some people will feel reluctant to express their problems through open virtual meetings. Try to make room for one-on-one sessions, so the team will be more open because they feel safe. Let them know there is an open door policy for their voice.
10. Create platforms for informal connection
Informal connections between members are a relaxing way to socialise. This may not solve the problem, but it can prevent the problem from arising. On this platform, they are free to discuss anything as long as it doesn't offend each other. This informal conversation can maintain the mental health and well-being of employees.
In a remote workplace, conflicts are not something that people can resolve in one go. There will always be internal conflicts and problems that arise periodically, and you can't run. And being able to handle conflict is one of the most critical aspects.
In addition to good leadership, communication technology is essential in dealing with problems in remote teams. Technology helps make communication clearer, build solid relationships and reduce conflicts before they arise.