Managing Conflicts With a Remote Team

June 6, 2022

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Managing Conflicts with a Remote Team

Conflict happens. Even in the best teams, conflict is inevitable. In our technology-driven world, remote teams are even more susceptible to developing conflicts as they work together to accomplish their goals. According to a study conducted by Harvard Business Review, 89% of the surveyed employees reported spending 3.5 hours a week dealing with workplace conflicts. 

Before exploring conflict management within remote teams, we must understand that conflicts are normal. The key to having a successful team is not to avoid conflicts but to manage them effectively. This article overviews the types of conflicts within a team, how they are caused, and how to work them within a remote team.

Are All Conflicts Bad?

As HBR had put it, “There is no such thing as a conflict-free work environment.” Conflict is a natural part of human interaction in most circumstances, especially in a work setting where collaboration is essential, and stakeholders are concerned.  Since conflicts are inevitable, are they all bad? We will explore the difference between negative and positive conflicts to answer this question. The ultimate goal of any team, including remote teams, is to complete the assigned project and meet management's expectations successfully. The way the team will handle a conflict can either help the team hit the bull's eye or miss it entirely.

Negative Conflicts 

Negative conflicts are like speed bumps, slowing your team down from getting to your destination. Imagine working on a team where the project leader is asked to push up the project’s deadline and does so without communicating to the group. Naturally, stress and frustration will arise. Negative conflicts like these, can lead to poor productivity, low morale, and, significantly, a loss of trust.

Positive Conflicts

Positive conflicts are welcomed. They are situations where teams learn to collaborate and come to an amicable solution effectively. Conflicts unravel the root cause of the problem, resulting from poor communication. They produce ideas and help build a stronger team. Each person involved has the opportunity to grow from the experience and gain a new appreciation for their colleague. 

What Causes Negative Conflicts Within a Remote Team?

Miscommunication and misunderstanding partner well to create tension within a team. Unclear expectations boil down to poor communication across the entire team and result in poor collaboration and productivity. This tension leads to negative attitudes, dissatisfaction, and a stressful work environment.

Before the telecommuting boom, managers relied on in-person meetings to set expectations for each person’s assignments. With the emergence of remote teams, management styles have to shift to set clear boundaries for communication and performance standards. 

Lack Of Communication Leads To Conflicts

It is common to observe a situation in which people over-communicate or under-communicate—too much communication results in excessive emails that distract everyone from their tasks. Not enough communication will leave the team without the proper knowledge and resources to accomplish their duties effectively.

Communication on a remote team often takes place through emails and chat rooms. A conversation without visual or auditory cues can easily result in misconceptions due to the lack of familiar cues. If a person's attitude and feelings aren't communicated adequately, it can be difficult to gauge them through writing. Without a clear understanding of the level of communication each team member should be responsible for, the team is unlikely to develop a healthy working relationship or collaborate effectively.

Tips For Managing An Active Negative Conflict

If you have an active negative conflict among your team members, it is essential to take the proper steps to deescalate the situation. 

Take The Conflict Offline

As soon as a conflict develops online through a chat tool or email chain, it is best to take the conversation off-line. Hop on the phone or on a Zoom Video call to hash out the problem. Simply hearing the other person’s response will help significantly with defusing the situation. 

Listen to Understand

There is a vast difference between listening to understand versus listening to respond. In a situation where there is a present conflict, it is best to listen intently to understand the other person’s perspective. When people know that their voice is heard, they are more willing to work cooperatively towards a solution. MindTools provides excellent resources to help you enhance your listening and communication skills, such as paying attention and giving verbal cues that you are actively engaged in the conversation.

How To Prevent Future Conflicts on a Remote Team

Now that we discussed the causes of conflicts and how to manage them, we should mention some ways to prevent disputes from arising. 

Standardize Communication

Standardizing communication methods will go a long way in preventing harmful conflicts. Ensure that each team member knows the pertinent information needed for their projects. Standardized communication will increase productivity, promote consistency, and provide a structured function and workflow.

Set one common platform for everyone to utilize for communication, such as Slack. This consistency will ensure that everyone has the same place to go to for collaboration between colleagues. Sometimes, simply increasing communication and writing down protocols will make a massive difference in providing a smooth workflow. 

Have Regular Meetings

Because the team is remote, regular meetings will serve well in mitigating unnecessary conflicts before they arise. A midweek huddle or weekly meeting on Zoom will allow the team leaders to get a temperature of the team's progress. Regular meetings will allow everyone to reconvene for that necessary human interaction with their colleagues. They are also a great way to discuss progress, address concerns, and provide updates. Forbes Magazine suggests keeping cameras on during the meeting to ensure everyone’s engagement and participation. 

Team Building 

Set aside time in your company’s schedule for a Zoom call where the team can simply hang out, play games, and get to know each other.

Working on a remote team shouldn’t interfere with getting to know your colleagues; make time to bond and celebrate the team's victories and achievements. These team-building sessions will give a personal touch to your team and allow everyone the opportunity to build positive relationships with their coworkers.

A positive work culture that consists of continuous communication and feedback is crucial for a remote team's success. Tools like GetSpeedBack can help you streamline the culture-building process, helping you to get the most out of your workforce.

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