How To Manage Conflict in a Remote Team

How To Manage Conflict in a Remote Team

While there are countless pros of working within a remote environment, it is no wonder that the benefits come with a slew of unique challenges that leaders should be prepared to deal with.  For years, conference room walls have kept the secrets of staff disputes, compromises, and reconciliation.

In typical work settings, meandering down to the office of a co-worker for a chat or sending a quick memo is a suitable way to address an issue. The opportunity for face-to-face conversations left little room for misunderstanding and a solution could be reached almost on the fly.

Not so in a modern remote work culture.

Purposeful Conflict Management

Managing internal issues amongst remote team members requires a greater degree of intentionality and attentiveness to details.

With the recent surge of mobile working teams, the boundaries that contained conflict have now disappeared and managing internal issues amongst remote team members requires a greater degree of intentionality and attentiveness to details. For both leaders and team members alike, making an effort to understand the cause of conflict and understanding the gravity of each situation is critical to team success. The goal of conflict resolution on a remote team is not to simply make sure the work gets done, but rather to help cultivate an atmosphere that meshes accountability with purpose and value for team members even as the are working from a distance.

As a remote manager, there is a lot of work to be done: tension to be managed, tasks to get done, and team members to talk to. But before diving into solving all these issues, it’s important to take a step back and get a big-picture view of the nature of conflict while working on a remote team.

Here are a few helpful tips to remember while working to sort out your remote team’s differences.

Change Your Perspective

Viewing conflict as tension, instead of simply as problems, goes a long way in helping to preserve positive relational dynamics…

Conflict is often viewed as a set of problems to be solved, but in reality, conflict within teams is more like tension that needs to be managed well.

Viewing conflict as tension, instead of simply as problems, goes a long way in helping to preserve positive relational dynamics that are critical to a remote team’s success. Choosing to treat conflict as tension to be managed allows leaders to approach team members disarmingly and will give team members space to respond appropriately, instead of reacting defensively.

Dig Deeper

Generally speaking, conflict is handled on the surface, i.e. “This went wrong. How do we fix it?” Whether for time’s sake or to preserve a comfortable work environment, teams typically avoid digging any deeper into issues — a decision that could be detrimental in the long run.

When managing conflict, it is important to handle the surface-level issue. After all, the show must go on and business needs to be handled. But the time spent digging underneath the issue is worth its weight in gold. It can reveal any number of underlying issues team members are dealing with at a given time. Asking good questions to team members is helpful, things like “Is this all that is bothering you?” and “Now that we’ve gotten this squared away, is there anything else we can address at this time?”

Taking notice can go a long way in helping team members feel heard and understood despite the lack of their physical presence.

Do Not Be Reactionary

It is human nature to act based on emotions and felt needs. In a working environment where conflict is present, often times team members and managers alike will default to defensive modes of response in order to avoid the discomfort of handling conflict appropriately. Thus the need for clear, calm communication is of utmost importance.

Because of the lack of interpersonal communication on remote-based team, it becomes more difficult for involved parties to empathize with one another and work towards a solution that benefits both the individual and the team as a whole. Managers and leaders will often take on the role of a cool-headed, calm mediator, working to ensure the conversation and problem-solving methods are productive.

Clearly, old methods and procedures will not cut it when managing a remote team. Understanding the nature of conflict and how to handle it in light of such a unique workplace environment will ensure happy remote workers and a smooth running virtual office.

Mike Brooks is a freelance writer for hire, covering a variety of topics including freelancing and web development. Connect with Mike on Twitter or through his blog at TentWriter.net