Conflict on any team can negatively affect productivity and kill morale. However, remote working can bring its unique challenges because interpersonal relationships evolve differently than with on-site teams. Electronic communications cannot convey body language or tone, essential aspects of non-verbal communication. The online disinhibition effect can also make people do and say things they would never do in a traditional office environment. If you’re not carefully managing your remote team, it can be all too easy for problems to develop and fester. Here are some tips for staying ahead of the potential issues and resolving conflict effectively:
Conflict resolution starts with prevention. Implementing a robust onboarding process will go a long way in minimizing conflict on your distributed teams. A thorough onboarding process will outline an employee’s job functions, get them up to speed on team processes, and provide them with the resources they need to get their job done. Getting your new employees the tools they need early — training, laptops, phones, email services, software licenses, etc. — is critical to getting them settled and productive as soon as possible.
Establish a Forum for Employees to Voice Their Concerns
This could be a Slack channel or an internal forum. The important thing is that remote employees have a place to express their concerns safely, without fear of backlash. This virtual space is essential because remote workers do not have the benefit of meeting coworkers face-to-face to resolve disagreements. Additionally, teams should also be empowered to discuss and resolve issues internally themselves before including senior management. Open and honest communication is critical to any productive workplace. However, with team members scattered across the globe, you will need to be extra proactive in keeping the lines of communication open and transparent.
Assign Someone to be in Charge of Every Issue
Every time a problem comes up, make sure that someone is in charge of seeing it through to resolution. This person will gather all the facts of the case and keep track of all the details. Assigning a point person will let employees know that you take their issues seriously and ensure that nothing slips through the cracks. A different person should be assigned to each problem so that no person gets overloaded or unduly diverted from their primary job.
Host Regular Meetings
A weekly or bi-weekly face-to-face meeting is a great time to bring the entire team together — even if virtually — and open the floor for discussion. This allows the team members to interact with each other on a more personal level than they could through emails or instant messages. Find a schedule that works for your team and stick to it. A regular meeting also allows employees to address issues as they arise, rather than keeping them bottled up and allowing discontent to fester.
Give Each Employee a Mentor
The mentor-mentee relationship is a feature of traditional work that shouldn’t be forgotten in the age of remote work. Working remotely can make team members feel distant from each other because, well, they are! However, assigning each employee — especially junior employees — a mentor can help take the edge off the loneliness. Mentors would be available to answer questions and help their junior teammates through challenging tasks.
Remote work has been life-changing for employers and employees alike. Overall, remote employees report a higher quality of life than their on-site counterparts while companies benefit from reduced overhead expenses, according to Forbes. However, traditional workplace conflict resolution strategies are often not practical for remote teams, and leaders will need to adjust accordingly.