Working from home, or anywhere with limited or no office space requires a different process for handling friction. Keeping remote team members in the loop about what’s going on and keeping things civil when it seems like there’s no other option but to fight is not always easy. Here are some tips on how to manage conflict as a remote team.
#1: Communicate frequently and clearly
While the nature of remote work makes it easy to devote more time to work than ever before, the barrier of distance calls for a higher level of communication among team members than in an office setting. This means you need to communicate often and clearly with your team members, even if it’s just to say you’re thinking about them or to give a brief update about what’s currently happening in the office. If you and your team members have a strong, open relationship, you can also use communication as a tool for solving problems before they turn into conflicts. In collaboration software like Asana, keeping track of what tasks are outstanding and the overall progress of a project is easy. This type of transparency makes it easier to identify issues and address them head-on, so they don’t fester into something much bigger. Another way to keep communication frequent is to use remote-friendly communication tools like Zoom, Google Hangouts, or Slack. These tools can help your team feel connected and streamlined, even if members are working remotely.
#2: Set realistic expectations in advance
When hiring for remote positions, it can be easy to get caught up in the allure of the freedom that comes with working from home. But it’s important to set realistic expectations for both yourself and your team members from the start. If team members aren’t meeting their goals, it’s important to not jump to conclusions as to why. Are they struggling with the tools or processes you’ve set up, or are they having trouble managing their time? It may be that they are just getting used to the freedom that remote work affords. Time, after all, is not as tangible as the tools you’ve set up, and it can be easy to lose track of how long you’re spending on different tasks, especially if you don’t have a system to keep track of it. It may also be that they are just not as productive as they thought they would be when they applied to the company. Remote work is very different from in-person collaboration, and it takes time to adjust to that difference.
#3: Have a reliable two-way feedback channel
Offices have water cooler talk, but for the most part, remote teams don’t have a way to casually and regularly feedback about the work environment, team members, and what needs to be improved. This can be dangerous because it leaves room for misinterpretation and miscommunication. When designing a survey that allows you and your team members to provide feedback about their work experience, make sure to ask about more than just work. Get an idea of what outside factors may be affecting performance and what needs to improve in the work environment. It’s also important to make sure you are giving as much feedback as you’re receiving. This doesn’t mean you need to be nitpicking everything your teammates are doing, but you do need to make sure you’re giving them constructive feedback when they deserve it. Remote team members rely on their managers to set the standard, so it’s important to make sure you’re setting a high bar throughout your team.
#4: Establish a culture of trust and transparency
When working remotely, a higher level of trust is required — and must be earned over time. It’s important to be transparent with your team members, even about things that might make them uncomfortable, like the overall project budget or exactly where the team is falling behind. This kind of transparency means your team members feel trusted and supported. It also helps set goals that are measurable and achievable, rather than based on a vague sense of “everyone should be working harder.” It’s also important to make sure that you’re setting an example of transparency in your own life. If you’re struggling to make ends meet, it’s important to let your team members know about it — and set expectations for them to be sensitive to your situation. If you’re struggling to meet a deadline, it’s important to let your team members know and let them know how they can help. Transparency goes a long way toward building trust, and it also helps prevent miscommunication and misinterpretation of information
#5: Don’t just rely on email for communication
While email is the most common form of communication among remote teams, it’s important to remember that email can be impersonal and doesn’t always translate well in written form. If a discussion or issue is important enough to derail your regular email flow, try using a team collaboration tool that allows you to post comments or start a chat thread. There are also tools that allow you to record meetings and have the audio or video saved for later reference. These tools can help you keep track of important conversations and make sure that both sides of the conversation are accurately represented in written form. That said, if you and your team members find that you’re relying on these tools to the point where you’re talking to each other exclusively through the tools instead of over the phone or in person, be sure to examine why this is happening — and what it could mean for your team.
#6: Take care of yourself — and your team
On top of all the regular communication and cultural setting that remote managing requires, you also need to make sure you’re taking care of yourself and your team members. If you are feeling run-down or stressed out, it’s important to take action before you hit a point of no return. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, unplugging regularly, and eating right. Having regular check-ins with your team members is also important — but it can be challenging when you’re all remote. Zoom, Google Hangouts, and Slack can help with this, but also make sure you’re not overusing these tools. As with everything, moderation is key. When you’re feeling good, it’s important to make sure your team members know you have their backs. This can mean letting them know when you’ve noticed they’re doing a great job, or it might mean offering to help out with a task that might be stressing them out. It’s important to make sure you’re taking care of yourself and your team members so that you all can continue to do great work. Remote work can be challenging, but with these tips, it can also be extremely rewarding.
Managing conflict among remote teams might feel like an impossible task, but with the right tools and practices in place, it’s possible to thrive as a company with employees in different locations from each other. Remember to communicate frequently and clearly, set realistic expectations in advance, have a reliable two-way feedback channel, and establish a culture of trust and transparency. Most importantly, make sure you’re taking care of yourself — and your team members so that you all can continue to do great work.