How to master conflict in remote teams

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Despite the many CEOs throw tantrums about return mandates and the many headlines about big companies like JP Morgan Chase demanding full-time office work, the data doesn’t lie. And the data shows that we’ve seen growth in remote working in recent weeks, the latest edition of LinkedIn’s Workforce Confidence Indexwhich surveyed 5,860 American professionals.

Most on-site work declined from a peak of 55% in November 2022 to 50% in January 2023, while remote work increased from 25% to 28% over that period, and hybrid increased from 16% to 18%. And comparable data according to research by Stanford University’s Nicholas Bloom, who reported in March 2023 that cities like New York, Chicago and Atlanta have more job openings open to remote workers than at any time in the past three years. In fact, has office occupation decreased from more than 50% compared to pre-pandemic levels in early 2023 to just 46% in mid-April 2023.

Related: You need to let your team determine their approach to hybrid work. A behavioral economist explains why and how to do it.

Leaders need to face the music: working remotely, full-time or part-time – what’s known as hybrid – is here to stay. I tell the 5-10 leaders I talk to weekly on the subject.

That means addressing the unique challenges associated with this new way of working can make or break a team’s success. Conflict resolution is one such challenge that, when mastered, can significantly improve the performance and morale of your remote team.

The Virtual Water Cooler: Fostering a Positive Environment

No advanced technology can replace the magic of personal water cooler chats. But fear not, my distant comrades. By creating a virtual water cooler environment, you can foster positivity and camaraderie in your remote team.

In one case of a client I worked with, a major financial services company experienced significant communication breakdowns between its remote employees. The solution? Set up a designated online space for casual conversations and team building activities. This virtual meeting place allowed team members to connect and build rapport, ultimately leading to better conflict resolution.

Most of my clients I’ve helped adapt to the future of work, such as the large financial services company mentioned above, implemented a ‘Morning Update’ for teams of four to eight people within their company. Teams create a separate channel for personal, non-work related discussions using collaboration software, such as Microsoft Teams, Slack, Trello, or other similar tools.

Each morning, all team members send a message answering the following questions:

1) How are things in general?

2) How are you feeling right now?

3) What has been interesting in your life outside of work lately?

4) What is happening in your work: what is going well and what are some challenges?

5) What is there about you or the world that most other team members don’t know?

This activity provides an excellent foundation for developing relationships, restoring trust and accommodating differences.

Related: How Has Remote Work Affected Our Relationships With Other Employees? The findings of this study will surprise you.

The Art of Active Listening: Be the Sherlock Holmes of Communication

Remote communication leaves plenty of room for misinterpretation. Active listening is your secret weapon in this battle. Train your team to be the Sherlock Holmes of communication: observe, analyze and empathize with their counterparts.

Another client, a regional insurance company, found success with this technique after a series of misunderstandings between remote team members. By implementing active listening training sessions, the company saw significant reductions in conflict and an increase in overall satisfaction.

Embrace the ET approach: empathy and transparency

When it comes to remote conflict resolution, empathy and transparency are as important as calling home for ET Make sure your team members express their emotions and concerns openly while empathizing with their colleagues, which helps prejudice and bigotry while improving relationships.

A mid-sized IT company I worked with experienced a breakthrough in team dynamics when it adopted the ET approach. Managers encouraged employees to be open about their feelings and held regular check-ins to address any concerns. This practice not only resolved conflicts more efficiently, but also strengthened team bonds.

Video killed the miscommunication star: Use video calls for clarity

Never underestimate the power of face-to-face communication, even in the virtual world. Video calls provide visual cues and help prevent miscommunication.

A professional services company with about 100 employees that I advised saw their conflict resolution dramatically improve after switching from text-based to video communication for team meetings. This simple yet effective change enabled employees to pick up on nonverbal cues and resolve any misunderstandings in real time.

The three C’s: clarity, consistency and constructive feedback

Imagine trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle with ambiguous instructions and inconsistent feedback. This is how remote teams feel when they miss the three Cs: clarity, consistency, and constructive feedback.

Another client, a late-stage SaaS startup, overcame a major communication hurdle by incorporating the three Cs into their workflow. Managers gave clear instructions, maintained consistent communication channels, and provided constructive feedback. The result? A highly motivated and conflict-free team.

The power of the (virtual) huddle: regular team check-ins

When working remotely, out of sight doesn’t mean out of mind. Regular team check-ins are essential to address potential conflicts before they escalate.

The largest law firm in a Midwestern city saw a marked improvement in team dynamics after implementing weekly check-ins based on my advice. This practice provided a platform for employees to raise concerns and proactively resolve conflicts.

Related: Employers: Hybrid Work Isn’t the Problem – Your Guidelines Are. Here’s why and how to fix them.

Cultural intelligence: embracing diversity for conflict resolution

Remote work offers the opportunity to build a team from a diverse pool of talent. While this diversity can be an incredible asset, it also brings unique challenges in conflict resolution. Developing cultural intelligence is key to unlocking the full potential of your global remote team.

A direct-to-consumer e-commerce company with about 200 employees decided to hire talent from around the world after going remote during the pandemic. pandemic. What it failed to realize, however, was that by hiring global staff, it would face cultural clashes within its remote workforce, which would escalate conflict. They asked me to help, and I assisted them in implementing cultural intelligence training and encouraging employees to learn about their colleagues’ backgrounds and habits. This enabled the company to turn potential conflicts into opportunities for growth and collaboration.

Peer-to-peer Mediation: Empowering your team to resolve conflicts

One of the most effective ways to approach remote conflict resolution is to empower your team to resolve conflicts among themselves. Peer-to-peer mediation can foster a sense of ownership and responsibility within the team, leading to stronger connections and better conflict management.

A leading healthcare organization I consulted was experiencing escalating tensions between remote team members. By implementing a peer-to-peer mediation program, the organization was able to handle conflicts more proactively and efficiently, leaving team members to feel heard and respected.

Flexibility: the superpower of the remote workforce

Finally, in a world where change is the only constant, flexibility is the superhero every remote team needs. Adapting to new situations, technologies and communication styles can make a world of difference in conflict resolution.

A multinational technology company faced an uphill battle with conflicts stemming from different time zones and communication preferences. By using my advice and encouraging flexibility and adopting asynchronous communication tools, the company witnessed a significant reduction in misunderstandings and an overall improvement in team cohesion.

The road to mastery in remote conflict resolution

Remote work – part-time or full-time – is an inevitable part of the future, as much as the Jamie Dimons of the world want to return to working full-time in the office. That means leaders need to learn new ways to manage in a hybrid world. This brings its unique set of challenges, but conflict resolution can be mastered with the right strategies and tools. By embracing advanced techniques outlined above, you can help your remote team thrive and navigate the remote work landscape like seasoned professionals. Remember that the key to success is your commitment to creating an inclusive, supportive and open environment where conflict is seen as an opportunity for growth and improvement. Empowering your remote team to communicate effectively, embrace diversity, and proactively resolve conflict not only improves team performance and morale, but also lays the foundation for long-term work success at a distance.