How To Virtually Address The Elephant In The Room (A Guide to Resolving Conflict With A Remote Team)

Remote working has started to rise in recent times with certain job industries and the overall state of the world. Although remote working is beneficial in certain ways, such as flexible schedules and less distractions from the traditional office environment, it can also lead to some issues.

Managers have to juggle the hurdle of virtual Collaboration and communication, which if neither are in tandem with each other, can lead to conflicts within teams…conflicts that you may not even know exist until it’s bubbled over and you’re stuck in the middle of it.

There is a silver lining for team leaders, though. Although conflict with remote teams can seem like a nightmare, it doesn’t have to be. Not vastly different from in-person office interactions, it’s possible to identify, resolve, and even better, prevent conflicts in a remote environment by keeping these tips in mind:

  • Set a clear, positive leadership example based on open communication.
  • Plan virtual social connections between your teams to strengthen bonds
  • Speak with both sides if there is a conflict and search for effective solutions

If you need more assistance on how to address and avoid any potential conflicts with your remote team, we have you covered with this step-by-step list. Read our 6 tips on how to address and resolve team conflicts when your team is remote.

1. Be A Positive Example

When it comes to deescalating potential work conflicts, it’s important that you, as the leader of the group, set the tone with positive wording, feedback and interactions with your team.

Although the team is remote, there are things that you can still do to help address team conflict before it even comes up. You can implement positive interactions between employees by integrating the following positive by doing the following on a weekly basis:

  •  Weekly Team Meetings: This is the weekly opportunity for your team members to take turns going over what they’re working on or if they need assistance with a project. To keep the atmosphere light, encourage your team members to talk about what’s going well with their workload first, or ask them about something positive that happening during their day, and then lead into asking what individuals need help with. Frequent check-ins with your team can help individuals avoid the feelings of frustration by lack of help or care with their workload. Feelings of being overwhelmed can lead to coworkers lashing out at or being confrontational with each other through messaging.
  • Team Building Exercises: Although meetings about work are essential, try to implement fun team building exercises to better strengthen bonds and positive communications skills within the team. 
  • Plan Remote Social Connections: This is so teams can bond on a more personal level. Plan monthly “virtual cocktail” parties after work where team members can play trivia games with each other, laugh over their favorite drinks and show off their pets. 

2. Read In Between The Lines

As stated above, addressing conflict sooner rather than later is the best way to go about it.  Be sure to be watchful of your employees’ behaviors and words, even if they aren’t saying anything. 

As a manager, it’s essential for you to ask the right questions about what may seem minor and to draw it out so it can be resolved before it blooms into a larger, harder-to-resolve conflict.

Working remotely means that you won’t always be able to pick up on the feelings of frustration or loneliness from your employees. It may also be difficult to see the eye-rolls and the stiff body language between two people through the phone.

As the leader, you don’t have telepathy, but you need to try to stay in tune with what’s actually happening on your team. These few tips to help include: 

  • Observe Carefully: Are there a few words in the group email that sound a bit snarky to you from one team member to another? During the weekly meeting, do you notice how one team member is talking aggressively toward someone else? Or in a video call, is one team member outright ignoring the eyes of another who is talking about their project? Some careful observation about what’s happening can reveal a lot.
  •  Ask Often: So, after you observe any tension from your group, simply ask if conflict exists.  It will do no good, either for the business or your team’s mental health, to ignore a potential discord amongst the group. Try one of these questions in order to root out the conflict and possibly the cause:
    • I sense there’s some disagreement here. Am I right?
    • In your opinion, What’s the best approach to this situation? What is yours?
    • Am I wrong in thinking this this project is causing problems for you?

These questions are neither blunt nor accusatory. They are phrased in a way to help best get to the root of the problem and thus, a solution.

3. Figure Out What The Real Problem Is

You’ve observed your team members rift, asked if there is a problem, and you’re officially aware of the issue.  This issue can either be between two specific employees, or between two different groups.  The quickest way to get to the root of a problem is by asking the “the five whys”. The five whys and five how’s techniques constitute a questioning process designed to drill down into the details of a problem or a solution and peel away the layers of symptoms.

Keep in mind though, while tactics such as “the five whys” address the root problem and help you identify the cause of conflict and how to be mindful about communication in the future, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a quick fix. From this point, it will do well to have a sit-down session with both sides.

4. Get Yourself Ready For The One-On-One Meeting

 You’ve done your investigative work to get to the bottom of the conflict, so your next step is to privately bring the parties together to help them squash their issue and work on better tactics or solutions moving forward with each other. 

Before you even think of scheduling the private discussion, as the facilitator of the meeting, remember that your role isn’t to correct behavior of pick a side. Do not get into “he said, she said” debates. You are there be unbiased and a mediator for each person to come together and move forward in a way that is best for the team.  

5. Set Up The One-On-One Meeting 

While small misunderstands are possible to resolve with a low-pressure method like an email, larger disagreements warrant real-time conversation between the two parties to come up with solutions for better collaboration. 

A specific communication method, whether that is by video conferencing or through the phone, is up to you and your team to choose. When it comes down to the private conversation between you and the two parties, here are a few tips to keep in mind: 

  • Schedule A Time: Pick a time that works best for the two parties so that they can all prepare to have this discussion in advance and to help settle any nerves. Make sure that you schedule more than enough time for everyone to brainstorm on solutions moving forward
  • This Isn’t A Finger-Pointing Session: Remember, this meeting is about finding a resolution and not rehashing issues. You’ve already done the investigative work and the team members have gone through your preliminary questions of the conflict. Refer to step 4 if needed. If the conversation takes a turn toward placing blame or airing grievances, be prepared to steer this meeting back on track if necessary. 
  • Ask Where Everyone Stands: Once You and your employees work together find a way to compromise, check in with how everyone is feeling before the meeting concludes. Make sure to ask something like, “Does everybody feel good about this solution?”. If not, be prepared pivot toward new ideas and suggestions.  

6. Check In With Both Parties

So, the private meeting is over and there is a feeling of relieved tension and maybe even some smiles after compromises are made. Your work isn’t over, however. The final step involves you monitoring and keeping a close eye on things to make sure that the employees are holding true to their commitment of teamwork and positive open communication.

Identifying a solution to a team conflict great, but as the team leader, you also need to keep tabs to ensure that solution is actually working. 

Feel free to check-in about the progress with your employees’ relationship after the private meeting is over.  Here are a few helpful questions to ask the involved team members: 

  • How have things been going with [employee]? Do you believe the dynamic has improved since the meeting?
  • In the meeting we had together, we agreed that you both would [resolution]. Has that been happening? Is it going well so far?
  • Have you experienced any new concerns or challenges collaborating—either with that team member or anyone else? 
  • Do you need me to help facilitate another meeting between you and [employee]? Will that help address any lingering concerns?