5 Tips To Effectively Manage Conflict In Virtual Teams

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown companies that virtual working is effective and saves money on office costs. Virtual working also provides more time for employees to spend with their families and focus on work without office politics. However, managers may find it challenging to manage conflicts in a team that is spread out across different time zones.

What is conflict management in virtual teams

Conflicts may come from disputes in cultures, ways of working and communication styles. It is important to understand that virtual conflicts are a result of various factors, such as distance, cultural conflict, and language barriers – making it challenging to resolve them.

Conflict management in virtual teams is important, and it requires unique skills and strategies to overcome these challenges. Teams must recognize the cause of the conflicts and address them in a proactive manner to ensure the team’s needs are met.

Types of conflict in virtual teams

There are various types of conflicts in virtual teams. Communication barriers, and cultural differences are just a few examples. These conflicts can negatively impact team productivity and morale, and it is important to discover the causes if teams are to work well together.

Causes of conflict in virtual teams

1. Communication

During the covid lockdown, I worked with a consulting company where everybody had to work from home during those days. Managers required every staff to fill in a form that tracks task numbers and hours spent on tasks weekly. The email sent to staff was in a direct and emotionless notice style, and that had caused fear among employees who worried that they might lose their job during the pandemic. And this is a classic example of lack of good communication.

With limited face-to-face interaction, virtual teams rely heavily on online communication, which can often create misunderstandings.  And misunderstandings would easily cause team members to overlook important details, make incorrect assumptions, and finally sabotage the team’s success.

2. Difference in work styles

Another cause of conflict is differences in work styles. People have different approaches to work, and these differences can often lead to conflicts regarding the role and duty of each team member.

3. Technology Malfunctions

Virtual team members may undergo frustration with technical trouble such as poor connectivity, slow response, or system issues. These challenges can hurt team morale and efficiency, fueling negative emotions that may result in conflicts.

4. Lack of good team atmosphere

One of the common issues that virtual teams face is the lack of a good team atmosphere. Online communication often leads to a communication gap, which further causes misunderstandings within the team. When team members are not comfortable with each other, it is difficult for them to work together towards a common goal.

5 tips on how to manage conflicts in virtual teams

Here are some ideas for how to solve this management problem in virtual teams.

  • Give clear project orientation:  As a leader, your top precedence is to have a clear plan when starting a project. This is the perfect time to establish rules, discuss expectations, and assign tasks to everyone involved. A clear project orientation would help a lot to avoid task-related variance.
  • Engage, Engage, Engage: It is crucial for virtual teams to make an extra effort to foster a positive team culture, through regular catch-ups, team-building, and nonverbal ways of communication. By doing so, teams can create a positive work environment and better team dynamics. Remember to set up regular team rituals, this means a lot to your team members. But do not overuse these tactics, your staff would never like a tedious online meeting and too much reporting work. If you want to track their daily work, ensure the process is simple or try to use a system to monitor their work.
  • Responsive leadership: Leaders must be able to quickly adapt their approach to fit the needs of their employees. Being responsive builds trust and creates a more productive and supportive work environment. A 5-minute call may be good enough to provide support to staff on time.
  • Hire remote-work friendly people: As a virtual team leader, your main job is to resolve conflicts between your team members to keep things running smoothly. But you can save yourself numerous time and effort by making sure you hire the right people in the first place. Look for candidates with both the right skills and the right attitude. In a virtual team, this means they should be open-minded, respectful of other cultures, and able to work well with others in different time zones.
  •  Open to disagreement: As a team leader, creating an environment where members feel safe to express their different opinions, is crucial. To achieve this, encourage open dialogue during team meetings and stimulate active engagement. Keep team members on the same page by ensuring that all shared information is clear and concise. In situations where disagreements arise, it is important to tackle them with respect, professionalism, and attentive listening.

How to prevent conflict in virtual teams?

Preventing conflict in virtual teams can be tricky, but it is critical to create an open and productive work environment. By launching clear guidelines for communication and team work, setting clear expectations, and fostering a culture of open dialogue, remote teams can work together more effectively.

For the education business to improve teaching and learning, it is also important to create a positive remote work setting for virtual teams. You can stay updated on management tips by subscribing to EDU Passport.  

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