The COVID-19 pandemic has upended nearly every aspect of our daily lives; from the way we spend our leisure time down to our work routine. To prevent the spread of the disease, many non-essential businesses have embraced the shift to remote work. Though this is great for enforcing social distancing measures and reducing exposure, working from home is not without its pitfalls.

As the pandemic forces us to spend more of our time online, employees may experience isolation and loneliness, and Zoom fatigue may start to creep in. Studies have also shown that online communications tend to be less inhibited and possibly more hostile because of their asynchronous nature and the sense of anonymity it creates. All of these problems can lead to internal virtual team conflict in the workplace if left unaddressed for too long.

Business leaders, then, must be quick to adapt to the changes in work dynamics, conflict management strategies, and organizational structure. Thankfully, the modern leader should be well equipped to deal with these problems, as today’s leadership degrees and traditional courses focus on tech-driven employee management solutions to better oversee remote operations. This knowledge of group dynamics, conflict resolution strategies in virtual teams, and organizational development, combined with the smart use of emerging technologies, will help in avoiding future difficulties in a remote working setup.

Conflict Management Strategies to Avoid Conflict in Virtual Teams

Don’t skip the team building

We have previously mentioned that team building not only boosts morale and strengthens camaraderie, but also fosters a more transparent working environment where issues can be addressed freely and without fear of backlash. Through team building, team members can be better oriented towards common goals, and we all know that a sense of belonging – the feeling of being “in this together” – can be a powerful motivator to get things done.

Team building doesn’t have to be an elaborate affair either. Something as simple as holding virtual game tournaments or happy hour nights over Zoom can go a long way towards improved team dynamics and relationship building.

Have a communal online workspace

For years, e-mail has been the go-to medium for virtual messages. But while it has its own merits, we cannot keep relying on e-mail alone for our workplace communication needs, as it is simply too inefficient and can actually be a chronic stressor for most employees.

Luckily, there are various tools such as online whiteboards, or Slack, where teams and topics can be compartmentalized to help parse the noise of team communications. This shared workspace also aids in democratizing decision-making, as it can serve as an online forum of sorts that encourages vetting and back-and-forth among colleagues. This open line of communication acts as a conflict resolution strategy for virtual teams. By opening up channels for discussion, festering grievances can easily be nipped in the bud.

Connect with your employees

In a physical office setting, it’s fairly easy to pick up on negativity and frustration through visual cues. But working remotely removes a lot of the social context which we use to communicate. It’s up to you as a business leader to pick up the slack and fill in that missing information yourself.

As always, talking openly is key. And we don’t mean small talk about the weather or team quotas. Dig deeper, but more importantly, be genuine and empathetic; everyone’s had a hard time during the pandemic, and your employees are no different. Attempting to connect also shows that you are an emotionally intelligent leader who actually cares about your employees as valued individuals, and not as mere cogs in a corporate machine.

Adding a slack channel where employees can share their past weekend activities or channels with common interests provides a space where remote employees can engage in conversation other than work like they would in person. These personalized channels allow virtual teams to continue to get to know one another and create strong relationships.

Recognize the little victories

These past two years have been difficult for everyone to adjust, so it’s important to acknowledge and celebrate the little victories where we can get them. Doing this helps bring the team together, and relieves some of the stress when much of your workplace communication is about business. In this case, it can range from the work-related – an outstanding proposal perhaps, or excellent feedback from a pleased client – to something more personal, like getting a new dog or even just celebrating the end of another workweek.

Conflict in the workplace is inevitable in every team, more so when most are in a work from home environment. But the right tools and proper conflict management strategies can ease the transition, make the digital workspace more welcoming for everyone, and build a better team. Proper conflict management strategies are shown through effective communication tools and skills, team building, expectations and productivity, and most importantly understanding.

Karen Juson

Team Contributor

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