How to Manage Conflicts in Remote Teams Effectively

How to Manage Conflicts in Remote Teams Effectively

Despite using the best video conferencing platforms and software programs, your company will still experience conflict between some team members. After all, people have different ideas, so the tool is not that paramount in employee behaviour. Conflict in the workplace damages relationship and impacts productivity. It is unhealthy, and it can even escalate into a full-blown problem. Therefore, you need to learn how to spot it immediately and fix it.

Why Do Conflicts Emerge In The First Place

Workplace conflict happens because of personalities. Humans require “chemistry” for a relationship to thrive. At first, there is no conflict since everyone is still assessing the people they just met.

Over time, people get used to each other. Boundaries go away, and ideas clash. Some talk bluntly, and some speak their minds without being sensitive to others.  

How To Spot Conflict In Remote Teams

It is a tad more challenging to spot conflict in a remote working environment. However, in a physical workplace, you would quickly notice an air of animosity between employees—some of them will not speak with each other or smirk when a particular name comes up in a conversation.

Here are some signs to watch out for:

  • Interpersonal clashes—people put down the ideas of others
  • Communication gaps – the colleagues are not on speaking terms
  • Sabotage – an employee is trying to derail another one
  • Absenteeism – some employees do not attend a meeting with somebody, or they give so many excuses

Humans are complex emotional beings—this list is not, by any means, exhaustive. However, watch for uneasiness and underperformance of virtual team members, and you can dig something that ultimately leads to conflict as a root cause of the problem. If the teams are in different places, you can use virtual conference platforms to communicate and watch them.

Read also: Remote Onboarding Process: A Step-By-Step Guide

6 Ways To Manage Conflicts In Virtual Teams 

Speak to the Team Members

The first step to take when addressing a conflict is to speak to the parties involved. Do not do this as a group yet. Instead, do it with a one-on-one session per person affected. Pretty much, this approach is a standard HR practice.

If you do it as a group, you will only end up with at least two people bickering at each other—they will try to out-talk each other and reason out their sides of the story. Before you know it, you just escalated the issue—you never resolved it. 

Speak to a team member in private. One key aspect to getting it done right is to listen. Do not make assumptions. Understand the emotions that the person is going through. List down what you heard. Also, it would help if you validated what you heard.

Do not forget to empathize. Make the person feel that you understand what he is going through. Do not be judgmental. Instead, correct wrong behaviours by discussing the possible negative consequences of such actions.

Do it with the other party involved. Then, you have a clear picture of what happened, what behaviours need correction, and what actions to take.

The final step is to speak to the two parties involved in a meeting. Please discuss what you know, and then tell them what you want to get done. Ask for their commitment to building a positive working environment and relationship.

Create Expectations Moving Forward

conflicts in teams

A conflict is an opportunity to learn. Now that you know how these things can potentially ruin your team, you must set expectations not only with the parties involved but with everyone.

There is no need to announce the conflict. It is unhealthy. Instead, it would help to create processes that will positively impact your team.

For example, creating an escalation process or protocol is perhaps a good idea if a conflict occurs between two departments. For example, let us say that a person from the art department cannot give commands to someone at the same level in the programming department.

Instead, the graphic artist must raise the issue to the supervisor, and then the art supervisor will speak to the programming supervisor. Let leaders handle some problems because they have more maturity than others.

Of course, this does not come without a price. It can stifle communication, but it is necessary if your situation calls for it.

You can also create meetings and set break-out sessions for team building or project planning.

In your meetings and planning, lay out job roles and tasks for each team member working on a project because major remote team disagreements stem from conflicting job obligations and responsibilities.

Use project management tools and communication tools to spell out roles, improve communication, build better workflow, and synergize your team. Make it a regular activity, and you will see your team members begin to have more patience and understanding with each other.

 Perhaps the article “Tips For Conducting an Interview Remotely” will be useful to you.

Set Up Weekly Individual Meetings 

In most companies, they call it coaching or one-on-one. It is a process by which you speak to an employee about his performance. It is also when you can do a temperature check about the employee’s mental and emotional health.

As a leader, it is your responsibility to do it at an individual level. There is no such thing as group coaching. Instead, you must set a time for each employee to speak with him and understand his challenges.

You also owe it to the employees to praise them for their work. On top of this, address behaviours that cause conflict—without involving another party.

During this time, you tell the employee what values you expect or how you want them to deal with other employees in the office.

This session has the aim of building trust between you and the employee. Therefore, never make it a grilling session. Instead, make sure that the employee feels empowered every time the session is over.

Coaching or one-on-one is something that the employee must look forward to. It has to be about him, not you. More importantly, it must be a session of encouragement, not a warning.

Understand the Root Cause of the Issue

To manage conflict in remote teams, you need to dig deep. Some leaders only focus on behaviours, but you can do better than this. It would help if you also looked for the cause of that behaviour.

You see, people want to do their jobs right. However, there are some processes and physical limitations at work. All these things can make an employee feel suppressed. If a person cannot do his job right for some reason, it causes a lack of fulfilment.

Let us say an employee wants to complete his work, but then he has a dependency on another employee. So he has to wait for Employee #2 to complete the task before starting.

This problem, as you know by now, is procedural. At first glance, people may easily blame Employee #2, saying that the delay is coming from his end.

However, this is not always entirely the case. Employee #2 is likely doing the job the best way. It’s just that the scheduling is wrong.

Look at process problems like this, and you will begin to understand that the conflict arises from policies and processes, not the people. But, unfortunately, the people are disappointed and vent it out to other team members, so you have conflicts.

Acknowledge the Rights and the Wrongs

When dealing with conflict in the workplace, you must praise people in public and then discipline them in private. Sometimes, you cannot help but have employees who commit violations.

In such cases, you must have an employee disciplinary action system. It is a company policy that must be in your company handbook.

The handbook must stipulate which behaviours merit termination of contract or employment. It must also have specific rules on how many levels of written warnings an employee must receive before being fired.

As a coach, you must document your coaching sessions and the expectations. Do not be afraid to write warnings and give them to erring employees.

The last thing you want is an embarrassment when you discipline, so keep it private. You do not want people to access these documents except the employee, HR, and the immediate supervisor.

If there is no policy in the office, make one. If the error is new or the conflict is something the employee handbook does not cover, create a new policy and release the memo.

Make sure everybody acknowledges the announcement. Do it with a digital signature. Or have them print it, sign, scan it, and send it back to your digitally.  

Create a Plan and Follow Through

conflicts in remote teams

The last tip for managing conflict in a remote environment is planning and follow-through. Make a plan for how you will prevent this kind of conflict from happening again, and make sure that plan happens.

For example, it is possible that two employees cannot work together. One thing you can do is plan how to move them to different departments. Then, execute the plan and make a follow-through.

If there is no need to move the employee, you must follow up after coaching. A week after you resolve the conflict, talk to the same parties involved and ask how they are. Find out if they have already settled their differences and provide support if they need it.

From these follow-up sessions, you will get a vibe of the situation. Sometimes, there is no way to fix the chemistry of people. If this is the case, you must deal with the situation differently.

How To Resolve Conflict In Remote Work

To resolve conflict in a remote work environment, you must make sure that you keep your channels open for communication. It is also imperative that you arrest the issue as soon as you realize that a conflict exists.

Try not to be biased, as this can send the wrong signals. Instead, focus on the values that you want your team to have. Understand the problems, and do not make them personal.

Manage conflict by addressing the behaviour, not the person. People make mistakes all the time. The worst thing that you can do is to rub it in. 

Instead, address the issue and its consequences, not the person. Practice fairness and equality, and you will be able to resolve the conflict between your team members.

Conclusion

Conflicts will always happen. You can prevent it, but it is equally better to have the skills to resolve them. Conflicts help people grow. Without it, people will never feel challenged.

As a leader, you must create an environment conducive to working. It does not matter if it is a small group. 

When conflict arises, it causes psychological and emotional distress, affecting a person’s work performance and life.

We are sure you will succeed, and the MyOwnConference service is an excellent platform for your ideal webinar.

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