How to Deal with Conflict in REMOTE teams

by Wendy Soon on March 31, 2014

iStock_000007163791Smallbanner2Following our earlier blog post on how to deal with conflicts within the team, here we will talk about how to deal with conflicts within REMOTE teams. Any kinds of teams can have conflicts. The difference in remote teams is that there can be conflicts more often, or conflicts can go unnoticed and undealt with for a longer time. These is due to the following reasons:


  1. Lack of body language — Remote teams communicate primarily through technology: be it email, phone, teleconferences or online project management systems. All these methods of communication do not cater for body language and voice tone, which accounts for over 90% of our communication! A simple “OK” in the email may sound like a friendly agreement to doing a task, but the receiver does not see the cross arms or rolled eyes that accompany that reply. This naturally leads to miscommunication, and people involved also do not realize there is any problem until much later of, if and when people explicitly point out the issues through the same technologies.

  2. Time zone differences — Teammates are not always available when you need them. Although expected in a remote team, it nonetheless will increase frustration when you urgently need to get some work done. Increased frustration naturally leads to heightened conflicts amongst team members. Crucial time also elapses before differences and disagreements are discovered. Matters thus tend to blow up into huge conflicts.

  3. Lack of informal communication — Natural communication that happens in a physical or “bricks and mortar” workplace are almost non-existent in remote teams. Simple complaints arising from small issues are discussed around the coffee machine, and can be cleared up and resolved very quickly. Remotely, people are making decisions and moving on rapidly — with and without your consent and knowledge. When unhappiness arises, one only exclaims “What did he do that for?!” to himself, but no one else in the team hears it nor responds to it. There is no approach to resolving the issue and thus it sits there until a bigger issue builds on top of it, or it grows into an uncontrollable situation.

  4. Social insecurity — All sorts of personalities exist in a team. In a regular, face-to-face team that works together, you can easily identify the various types of people and personalities that you need to work with and deal with. However, in a remote team, it remains a mystery the type of personalities you are dealing with. You don’t know who is receptive to constructive criticisms and who hates being bossed over. You don’t know who responds quickly to emails and who is just plain ignoring you. Without knowing what personalities you are in contact with, there is no way you can “strategize” how to respond and work with them.


To resolve these conflicts, on top of the usual methods we mentioned in the earlier blog post, you need to implement the following for your remote teams:


  1. Increase the routes of communication — email is the worst form of communication, because it does not account for either tone, expression nor body language as mentioned above. When there is a disagreement,  instead of email (words only), pick up the phone (words+tone), or better still, start a video conference (words+tone+expression+body language). Make full use of the non-verbal communication that can be offered through video conferencing, and work out the issues accordingly.

  2. Clearly state your thoughts — especially if email is the primary or only form of communication available. In order to avoid misunderstandings and miscommunications, clearly state your thoughts and thoroughly communicate your objectives precisely. Request for written confirmations to make sure your message has gotten through.

  3. Resolve one-on-one — even in the virtual world, public announcements of conflicts are not welcome. Instead of publicizing the conflict in internal blogs or mass emails, arrange for one-on-one video conferences with the people who are involved. Chat with them separately and resolve the issues privately, just as you would in a regular workspace.

how to manage remote employees July 30, 2014 at 1:34 am
Wendy Soon August 11, 2014 at 6:34 am

Thanks! hope it’s helpful to your team

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