6 Tips to Help Your Team Avoid Conflict in a Virtual Environment
Workplace conflict is hard to avoid, especially in a virtual work environment. But, in this guest article from Georgi Todorov, you’ll learn tips and tactics you can use to help reduce virtual work conflicts and to mitigate those that do arise.
Conflict in the workplace is almost impossible to avoid. It is possible to manage it very effectively, but it becomes tricky when team members are taken out of the office. One of the problems with a virtual working environment is that digital messages can be easily misconstrued.
Employee conflicts can be very costly, both in terms of productivity, squashed morale, and crushed creativity. A report from ACAS in the UK estimates that workplace conflict costs employers the equivalent of nearly $40 billion a year. This is an average of just over $1,300 for every employee.
There isn’t the luxury of proximity in a virtual world so that the parties in a conflict can work their differences out face-to-face. So, what can you do to reduce the number of workplace conflicts? Before answering this question, let’s take a quick look at the most common conflicts in a virtual environment.
What are the most common conflicts in a virtual environment?
There are four types of conflicts commonly found in virtual teams. Knowing what they are can help you recognize the early warning signs and address them before they spiral out of control.
If you’ve ever worked on a group project, you’re probably already familiar with this type of conflict. For a project to reach a successful conclusion, individuals in a team need to pull their weight. However, how the tasks are allocated, differences of opinion on policies and procedures, managing expectations, and interpretation of facts can lead to disputes.
It’s not unusual for the most reasonable people to disagree about how tasks need to be performed, how those tasks should be carried out, what resources will help move the project forward, and individual team member needs.
Managers and leaders need to define the shared goals and vision for a remote team to function well. This will require scheduled team meetings as well as one-to-one communications. If this doesn’t occur, conflict can be an issue as remote members work off different assumptions and sets of goals.
When teams move to remote work, there is a distinct lack of guidelines and established norms when it comes to negotiations. Everyone is aware of how they should behave for in-person interactions. However, when a team moves to a more virtual environment, employees suddenly struggle with a range of communication tools.
A key issue with a virtual workplace is that digital communication mediums fail to provide nuance and context. As a result, judgments can be made, and conflicts fester because communication platforms don’t allow for body language, facial expression, posture, tone, and hand gestures. Using a conversational tone can help ease this, but it’s not the same as face-to-face interactions or video calls.
How to avoid team conflicts in a virtual environment
If you want to prevent or at the very least reduce team conflicts, managers have to be proactive in preventing, addressing, and resolving disputes before they drive your top team members away or derail your project.
Set ground rules to avoid miscommunication
It’s very easy for digital communications to go awry and become heated. You can avoid such situations by setting some ground rules for remote teams to follow. Here are some simple rules you might want to follow:
- Always treat people with respect and equality
- Consider and respect other people’s points of view
- If you’re going to disagree with a colleague, remain professional and calm, communicate calmly and explain why you disagree.
- Make sure all the team is on the same page.
- Before you click “Send,” take a moment to think about what you’re saying.
- Don’t be afraid, embarrassed, or too proud to apologize when you’re in the wrong.
- Dialogue should always be nonconfrontational.
- If a problem can’t be resolved, distance yourself from the situation.
Create a protocol for decision making
If a team needs to make decisions, it’s wise to establish the decision-making process and ensure all participants agree.
Consider the following step-by-step decision-making process:
- Identify the decision
- Gather any relevant information
- Identify the options
- Weigh up the evidence
- Make your choice
- Take action
- Review the decision and consequences
Use a virtual whiteboard to brainstorm ideas
A clear and constant flow of communication can build trust and create a natural place for sharing ideas and discussions. There might not be a watercooler anymore, but tools such as Slack provide employees with a place to talk about anything they want. When employees can get to know each other better, there is less chance of conflict.
Hold regular virtual meetings
Employees aren’t able to meet up in the same way they did before COVID-19. For example, remote team members can’t enjoy lunch breaks with colleagues or after-work gatherings. To ensure your team members stay connected and engaged, host regular virtual meetings.
Constant communication opportunities will help avoid misunderstandings and prevent disagreements. Make sure the atmosphere is friendly, and you engage with everyone during the meeting.
Encourage team members to get face-to-face time
Encourage team members to keep their video cameras turned on because this will make the meetings more personal. During those meetings, consider sharing informative podcasts to listen to, watch interactive videos, or use other types of content for engagement..
Organize virtual team building activities
A great way to improve communication and foster a group mentality is to involve your employees in remote team building activities.
If you’re not sure where to start, check out Outback’s list of 29 virtual team building activity ideas to engage remote employees.
You may also want to enlist a group skills training workshop, such as Conflict Resolution, which will help you and your team learn to manage and resolve conflicts with colleagues in a more productive and positive way.
Conflict is not uncommon in virtual teams. However, when managers lead from the front, encourage positive teamwork and interpersonal communication, it can help keep conflict to a minimum.
Learn More About How Team Building and Training Programs Can Help Reduce Virtual Workplace Conflict
For more information about how to reduce virtual workplace conflict with team building and training, reach out to our Employee Engagement Consultants.
Georgi Todorov is the founder of ThriveMyWay, a website dedicated to teaching successful digital marketing strategies. Georgi is regularly called upon by companies seeking to develop and enhance their SEO and link-building strategies in order to achieve hockey stick growth. When Georgi isn’t working, you can find him getting close to nature, learning online, or traveling.