5 Critical Areas For Managing Conflict in the Remote Workplace

managing conflict in the remote workplaceManaging conflict in the workplace is never easy. But when your team is working remotely it can be even more challenging. You can’t sit your employees across from each other and talk it out in a conference room. Plus, conflict on a remote team may not be as obvious, which can leave resentment to fester and escalate over time.

Conflict on any team—in-house or remote—can disrupt workflow, performance, morale, and employee engagement, so it’s crucial that remote managers are prepared.

When you understand what factors contribute to conflict, you can take steps to prevent conflict and manage it more effectively when it does arise. Building and strengthening your team’s collaborative awareness is a good place to start. Collaborative awareness means understanding each other and our interconnectedness.

 

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Virtual team members work best when they have collaborative awareness in five areas:

  • Activity
  • Availability
  • Process
  • Perspective
  • Environment

In this article, we will discuss how conflict in these five areas can arise and how you can reduce conflict on a remote team.

 

1. Activity.

 

Remote employees don’t share the same space, so they can’t see what others on the team are doing. This can lead them to make assumptions about what team members are or are not working on, and cause frustration about assignment distribution or workload.

 

Solution: Increase visibility and recognition.

Since remote employees have less visibility into the daily activities of their coworkers, it’s important to provide context and clarity around team schedules, assignments, and accountability. In other words, who is doing what, when they are doing it, and why. Understanding how each person is contributing to the team helps everyone stay aligned on goals and avoid costly redundancies, inefficiencies, and assumptions.

Build strong channels of communication and make it easy for team members to check-in with each other. Managers should also take advantage of one-on-ones and check-in meetings with their team to ensure employees share concerns or frustrations and get the support they need to do their work effectively.

Additionally, managers should be quick to acknowledge individual achievements publicly and privately. Employee recognition is crucial to building a happy and productive team.

Pro Tip: Develop a culture of peer-to-peer recognition. Peer-to-peer recognition is an authentic and powerful way to recognize employees’ contributions. When team members can see the good things their coworkers are doing, and share those wins as a team, it builds a culture of support and collaboration—instead of competition and resentment.

 

2. Availability.

 

If employees don’t have clear communication about schedules, meetings, and team members’ availability, they are likely to become frustrated by slow response times, work disruptions, and difficulty reaching coworkers when they need them.

 

Solution: Set clear expectations.

Conflict around availability on remote teams can be solved similarly to team activity. It’s all about improving communication and streamlining workflows so that everyone is on the same page and knows what to expect.

Simple solutions include:

  • Making a shared team calendar that outlines meetings and general availability for each team member. 
  • Documenting employee preferences for communication channels (e.g., email, chat, phone, or text message). 
  • Outlining roles, responsibilities, and deadlines that team members can reference throughout a project. 
Pro Tip:  Survey your employees periodically to get feedback on team communication methods, schedules, and processes. Are your tools effective? Do any team members feel out of the loop? How can you ensure everyone has the access and insight they need to do their jobs? Regularly soliciting feedback from your employees helps you identify and address issues early so that everyone can work effectively.

 

3. Process.

 

Remote work can be highly productive as long as everyone is on the same page. Teams that don’t have clear processes, including documented assignments, workflows, and deadlines, may develop conflict around confusion, miscommunication, and a lack of accountability.

 

Solution: Identify and document team processes.

Build transparency and communication into your team culture and processes. Identify and document team processes and workflows that clearly outline assignments, timelines, and accountabilities. Communicate expectations with the team to avoid confusion.

Take advantage of project management software or shared cloud solutions so that there is one source of truth and the information is easily accessible by everyone on the team. This will keep everyone on the same page, reduce miscommunications, and make it easier for employees to stay focused and get the information they need.

Pro Tip: Optimize your onboarding process so that new team members can get up to speed quickly and receive the training and resources they need to execute from day one. This will help prevent conflict by ensuring new team members have the support they need to do their jobs accurately and efficiently.

 

4. Perspective.

 

Teams that have collaborative awareness around perspective understand the history and culture of the organization and share a vision for the future. Without this shared perspective, conflict can arise from misalignment and competing priorities or work functions.

 

Solution: Tie conversations to goals and priorities.

Managers can make a big difference here. When communicating with your team, always tie projects, assignments, and initiatives back to your team and organizational goals. In other words, connect their work to the “why.” This will help you and your employees align their priorities, goals, and work with a shared team vision and company strategy.

Pro Tip: Keep individual and organizational performance goals top-of-mind all year with Quantum’s Goal Conversation Booster. Our Goal Conversation Booster helps managers and employees track goals at-a-glance, put performance into context, clarify priorities, and uncover obstacles to success. Incorporate it into your regular 1:1s so you can track progress throughout the year and adjust as needed.

 

5. Environment.

 

Virtual teams should understand the external environment they’re working in, such as laws and industry regulations, severe weather, or public health concerns.

Lack of collaborative awareness in this area could result in inadequate (or nonexistent) contingency plans and protocols. When environmental factors eventually impact business operations, this can lead to finger-pointing, frustration, and low morale.

 

Solution: Communicate with context.

Reinforcing collaborative awareness around environmental factors is an important part of a manager’s role, especially on virtual teams. Managers should provide environmental context in their communications with employees, especially when discussing big-picture policies or initiatives.

Pro Tip: This is especially important during times of change, crisis, or upheaval. Communicate clearly and often about what plans or policies are in place to address and mitigate environmental impacts. If you are managing through crisis, be honest about the risks and set expectations (even if its bad news).

 

Conflict thrives in uncertainty. So the better you communicate, clarify, and manage expectations, the less confused and frustrated your team will be.

 


 

Building a remote team with high collaborative awareness is an ongoing process. But as you optimize communication, feedback, collaboration, and transparency, conflict will decrease and engagement will improve. Download our ebook for 50 Team Building Ideas to Engage Employees.

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