6 strategies to resolve conflict in remote teams 

Resolving conflict in a remote team can be challenging, but it's important for maintaining a positive and productive work environment. Here are some strategies to help you!

4th Apr 2024

Conflict is a natural part of any team dynamic. In a remote setting, where face-to-face interaction is limited, and misunderstandings can easily happen, it becomes even more important to address and resolve conflicts effectively. 

In this blog post, we'll look at proven strategies for managing conflict in remote teams, helping you create an amicable and productive work environment. 

What is conflict at work?

Conflict at work is when there's a clash of interests, opinions, or personalities among coworkers or teams. You and your colleague might have different ideas about a project, or someone's behaviour doesn't sit well with you.

When conflict arises in a remote team, you don't want to let it escalate. These strategies will help you resolve conflicts at work and improve teamwork. Failing to address the conflict can lead to animosities among the team and may affect productivity and well-being for everyone.

1. Have clear communication guidelines in place

One of the main reasons conflict happens in remote teams is miscommunication. Without the benefit of in-person cues, such as body language and tone of voice, messages can easily be misinterpreted, leading to confusion and frustration. To help with this, it's important to have clear communication guidelines in place for your team. 

  • Encourage the use of video calls for important discussions or sensitive topics
  • Set expectations around response times for emails and messages, taking into account different time zones and working hours.
  • Promote the use of clear, concise language in written communication, and encourage team members to ask for clarification when needed.
  • Make it clear what the preferred channels of communication are. For example at Flexa we use Slack as our main form of communication. Make sure people know this when they join to avoid any missed communication or misunderstandings. 

By making it clear what communication channels you all use and why, you can create a foundation for effective collaboration and minimise the likelihood of conflicts arising from miscommunication. 

2. Create a culture of trust

In a remote team, building trust and psychological safety is important for creating a workplace where team members feel comfortable expressing their opinions, admitting mistakes, and engaging in constructive conflict. When team members trust one another and feel secure in their roles, they are more likely to approach conflicts with an open mind and a willingness to find solutions. 

  • Celebrate successes and milestones, both individual and team-based, to create a sense of shared achievement and belonging.
  • Encourage open and honest communication, by sharing your own challenges and lessons learned.
  • Provide opportunities for team members to connect on a personal level, such as virtual coffee chats or team-building activities.
  • Create a growth mindset across the team, where mistakes are seen as opportunities for learning and improvement rather than failures.

By creating a culture of trust and psychological safety, you lay the groundwork for effective conflict resolution and collaboration. 

3. Address conflicts promptly and directly

When conflicts do arise in remote teams, it's important to address them promptly and directly, rather than allowing them to  escalate. Unresolved conflicts can lead to a breakdown in team dynamics, undermining productivity and morale. 

  • Identify the root cause of the conflict, whether it's a disagreement over priorities, a misunderstanding, or a personality clash.
  • Schedule a virtual meeting  to discuss the issue openly and respectfully, using "I" statements to express concerns and avoid placing blame.
  • Focus on finding a solution that addresses the needs and concerns of all parties, rather than dwelling on the problem itself.
  • If you think it’s needed, document the agreed solution and action items, and follow up regularly to make sure that progress is being made.

By addressing conflicts promptly and directly, it helps maintain a healthy team dynamic and prevents minor issues from escalating into major problems. 

4. Understand how your team communicates. 

Everybody is different and quite often conflict can occur becauase of this. We all communicate and work in different ways and it’s important to communicate these different styles to the wider team.

  1. Understanding Different Working Patterns: Recognise that team members may have different working patterns, such as early birds and night owls. Respect each other's preferred times for communication and collaboration.
  2. Identifying stress triggers: Be aware of things that can cause stress for different team members. Whether it's tight deadlines, high-pressure tasks, or personal commitments, understanding these triggers can help avoid conflicts.
  3. Recognising out-of-work responsibilities: Everyone has responsibilities outside of work, whether it's childcare, caregiving, or personal commitments. Respect these responsibilities, and be flexible in accommodating them.

At Flexa we use ‘Manual of me’ to understand each other's needs. This helps us create a framework which helps everyone understand each other's working preferences, motivations and needs. It’s made a big difference in helping us all work better together. 

5. Provide training and resources 

Equipping your remote team with the skills and tools they need to manage conflict effectively is an investment in their success and the overall health of your organisation. By providing training and resources on conflict resolution, you empower your team members to take ownership of their relationships and work through challenges collaboratively. 

  • Share online courses or webinars on effective communication, active listening, and conflict resolution techniques.
  • Share books, articles, and other resources on team dynamics, emotional intelligence, and problem-solving.
  • Encourage employees to share their different working styles, motivations and stress triggers. 

6. Lead by Example 

As a leader of a remote team, your actions and attitudes towards conflict set the tone for the entire group. By modelling effective conflict resolution skills and maintaining a calm, professional demeanour, you demonstrate the importance of addressing issues constructively and collaboratively. 

Consider the following ways to lead by example:

  • Remain approachable and open to feedback, and actively seek input from your team members on how to improve processes and relationships.
  • When conflicts arise, focus on finding win-win solutions that benefit the team as a whole, rather than taking sides or assigning blame.
  • Celebrate successful conflict resolution efforts, and acknowledge the hard work and dedication of team members who navigate challenges effectively.
  • Share your own experiences with conflict and the lessons you've learned, demonstrating vulnerability and a commitment to continuous improvement.

By leading by example, you create a positive, supportive team culture that encourages open communication, collaboration, and effective conflict resolution.

Embracing conflict is as an opportunity for growth

Managing conflict in remote teams is not always easy, but by implementing the strategies outlined above, you can create a more harmonious, productive, and resilient team. Remember, conflict itself is not negative; it's how we choose to approach and resolve it that determines its impact on our relationships and work.