Remote Work: Would Conflicts Be Harder to Manage?

Whether people like it or not, conflict exists as long as they’re working with different individuals. Despite having employees work remotely, it’s still highly likely for employers to deal with company conflicts. In fact, some experts believe that a virtual team is far more susceptible to disagreements than an in-office one. Would it be harder to control or manage conflict in a remote work environment?

Lindrer Geer, an organizational behavior professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business, states, “Conflict in virtual teams is more likely to be negative for performance and is more likely to escalate.” She further elaborates that coworkers perceive receiving messages through virtual channels such as video calls and emails as impersonal gestures that will possibly result in employee disputes. The lack of clear observations on social cues can cause them to misinterpret the messages colleagues are trying to convey through these virtual communication channels.

In addition to that, lack, timeliness, and consistency of information from upper management can lead to poor views on company leadership. Employees not having quick access to casually inquire simple questions regarding task assignments is especially problematic. It can cause inconsistencies of instructions that can escalate to avoidable misunderstandings between team members.

From a global mobility manager’s perspective, navigating through conflict with global talent becomes more complex. Dealing with a global workforce means that employees are bound to have more cultural differences and wider backgrounds, thus, an increased possibility of conflict is expected. This expectation should steer talent managers to have conflict resolution mechanisms in place. This helps in resolving conflicts at its early stages and preventing burdensome and time-consuming investigations.

Now, having discussed some factors that contribute to company conflicts, here are some tips on how to avoid them that employers can take note of: 

Communicate in detail. Misunderstanding is prevalent in remote working. When communicating through emails and other platforms, coworkers find it difficult to read messages the way the sender intended it to be read. Fortune mentions that inside Trello’s 80-percent remote staff, “over communicating” is encouraged to guarantee the reader’s comprehension of a message’s tone and understandability. 

The Risk and Resilience Hub suggests companies to increase their frequency and volume of internal communication so that the employees’ demand for updated information is met. It continues by providing managers with guide questions before a manager communicates with his or her teams as follows:

  • What is the desired outcome of the communication?
  • What will be communicated?
  • Who will initiate the communication?
  • Which employees will be communicated with?
  • How and where is the communication going to happen?
  • When will the communication take place?

Ask more frequently. Supervisors have a tougher time reading their team members when managing them remotely. It’s easier for employees to hide hidden conflicts within the team when managers aren’t able to physically observe evident changes in team dynamics as it was inside the office. Managers, therefore, have to intentionally ask each team member if conflict exists. It’s crucial for managers to provide an open and trusting environment where employees feel safe to discuss sensitive matters such as these. 

Be open to feedback. Being open to constructive criticisms marks an effective leader. The gesture of asking employees of management concerns goes a long way – even a simple but well-intentioned email will suffice. Once they begin to understand that having honest conversations of issues is well-received, they wouldn’t hesitate to bring up concerns with the team and management. This helps employers dissect conflict early on and find solutions to prevent similar cases to rise.

Setting clear work expectations. Whether it is a regular video call at the start of the day to communicate deliverables to the team or setting up comprehensive task assignments in project management platforms like Trello or Monday, supplying clear expectations will help direct employees on what and when they need to accomplish a specific task. In addition, managers shouldn’t forget to inform employees when each worker – including the manager – is available for calls to avoid work interruptions.

Keep some conversations personal. When early signs of conflict arise, there are practically three ways an employee can respond. First, they can bring it up with their direct supervisor to resolve any suspected issues that might lead to deeper conflict. 

Second, they can bring it up to people who are possibly involved in the supposed disputes. And third, they can involve people who aren’t directly part of the conflict. It’s best to handle some cases privately between involved members only. Probably a video call would be the best option to openly discuss misunderstandings personally, rather than written channels.