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How to Manage Employee Conflict in a Remote Work Setup

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If you manage remote freelancers or a distributed team, you must become adept at remote conflict resolution—and fast. The remote work setup has become increasingly popular even before the COVID-19 pandemic, and the trend continues to rise. According to a recent Gartner poll, 48% of employees will likely work remotely in some capacity post-COVID-19 versus 30% before the pandemic. 

As organizations migrate to more remote work operations, employers must be prepared to adopt employee experience strategies as new challenges arise. With more teams working remotely, conflicts happen digitally over emails, text messages, and other online communication channels.

Based on a 2021 study from MyPerfectResume, 80% of remote professionals have encountered workplace conflict—with their co-worker, direct manager, client, or employees working at another company. Lack of transparency, lack of teamwork, work-related stress, and rude behavior are among the main causes of conflict. 

Body language, facial expressions, and communication style play a significant role during conflict resolution. However, this opportunity is lost when communicating via digital devices—resulting in remote work conflicts caused by miscommunications and misunderstandings.

Conflicts within remote teams have a detrimental effect on organizational performance, employee engagement, and the overall work environment. Company leaders must apply different communication strategies to prevent and manage remote work conflicts.

As more people join your remote team, the likelihood of conflicts increases. Understanding workplace conflicts helps you handle disputes between employees more effectively. To help you have a better grasp of situations like this, we’ve put together some of the common types of remote work conflict to watch out for, along with strategies for managing friction when it affects your team.

Common Types of Remote Work Conflict

Conflicts are inevitable in organizations, whether operating remotely or face-to-face. In most cases, respect among and between the parties involved can prevent misunderstandings from escalating into conflicts that require formal dispute resolution.

Here are some of the most common workplace conflicts organizations should anticipate and prepare for:

Work Style Conflicts

Individuals approach situations in different ways. Many people prefer to work alone and at their own pace, level of knowledge, and skills. Others like to work in groups, express their thoughts, and collaborate with their peers. Conflicts can occur when co-workers do not share similarities in how they work.

Task Conflicts

These are disagreements over the best way of completing assigned duties. These conflicts are often a consequence of inadequate communication or when employees are unclear about their responsibilities. When employees are uncertain about what’s expected of them, they may perform their tasks incorrectly, which, in turn, may cause conflict between team members. 

Personality Conflicts

Co-workers can clash over personal style, work methods, or goals. Differences in perceptions and behaviors, shaped by culture, values, beliefs, and background, may also influence how individuals perceive and act toward others.

Conflict Management Strategies for Remote Work

It’s worth noting that while no organization can avoid remote work conflict entirely, every team member has a part to play in resolving these disputes.

As a manager, here are some simple tactics for resolving and reducing remote work conflict.

  1. Set Clear Expectations

When responsibilities and expectations are unclear, employees may feel unsettled and frequently clash. Setting clear expectations, procedures, and priorities is key to avoiding remote work conflict

Set procedures to streamline team communication and be sure to clarify any protocol that’s unique to a remote role. Then, keep track of all critical processes, procedures, and outcomes to ensure employees are meeting expectations.

  1. Keep Track of Productivity

In addition to setting clear expectations, take advantage of apps or tools to check on your remote team’s productivity. When you have all the relevant information about each employee, you can avoid misunderstandings about work responsibilities and performance.

Additionally, monitoring progress toward goals—and making that progress visible to everyone—can help teams stay motivated and on track.

  1. Treat Everyone Equally and with Respect

Treating everyone with respect is among the best practices for remote work. Never pass judgment on workers based on their age, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, level of education, or religion. Make sure to use non-discriminatory language in all business communication. It is vital to treat all employees with respect and kindness to prevent remote work conflicts.

  1. Collect the Facts

While team members may have the best intentions, they can get emotional when dealing with interpersonal disagreements. Since you don’t have all the details surrounding an incident, conflict resolution requires you to listen carefully to all sides of the story.

Before setting a group meeting to discuss the conflict, speak with each party separately to gather facts. Assure all employees they are in a safe environment, stay present, and be ready to ask thoughtful follow-up questions to help resolve the conflict.

  1. Be Proactive—Address the Conflict Immediately

The longer a conflict is left unresolved, the more likely it will escalate. Conflicts often begin small, but if they are allowed to fester, they may grow into bigger issues and even result in employees leaving your team or the company.

Gather all the facts, communicate with each side separately, mediate the situation, and deescalate. Set a phone or video conference to bring the conflict to a head and prevent it from escalating. Then, once a resolution has been met, create a goal-oriented agreement between the involved employees to promote positive communication in the workplace.

  1. Hire the Right People

Hiring for cultural fit can help you cultivate a positive remote work culture and will pay back a thousandfold in terms of increased employee engagement, collaboration, productivity, and retention.

While you want to hire an experienced, skilled professional, you must also consider the job candidate's potential impact on workplace dynamics. Remember that co-workers can disagree over personal preferences, work methods, or goals, and differences in perceptions may influence how they interact with each other. Therefore, it’s crucial to consider hiring people who share similarities in values and work ethic.

Moreover, if overcommunication is part of your corporate culture because you have distributed teams, choose to hire individuals who can express themselves clearly, effectively, and positively to avoid remote work conflict.

Conclusion

Conflict management is vital in any professional setting, but it is especially critical in a remote work setup, as miscommunications are more likely to arise in the absence of in-person communication.

It is important to address workplace conflicts and develop strategies for resolving them before they escalate and become problematic. Support your team members and ensure proper practices are in place to resolve and prevent these conflicts.

As companies continue to embrace working from home, the ability to manage teams of remote professionals has become essential. It is critical to set up methods for tracking progress and providing feedback while cultivating a friendly and collaborative atmosphere. 

Hiring the right people for your team matters. Celerative can help you find the right talent and solutions to your unique needs as you build your remote team and thrive in the new normal. Sign up to Celerative and start your search, today.

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