Remote Work Etiquette: Best Practices for Virtual Teams

How to Handle Conflict in Virtual Teams

Rob Palmer

Navigating Digital Disputes: Resolving Conflicts in Virtual Workspaces

Conflict in virtual teams may leave you feeling overwhelmed and unsure of how to create harmony. In fact, a study reveals that 85% of employees encounter conflict in their remote work setup.

Resolving Conflicts in Virtual Workspaces
Resolving Conflicts in Virtual Workspaces

This post will guide you through understanding the roots of such conflicts and proven ways to manage them effectively. Dive in to discover strategies for creating a more productive and positive remote work environment!

Understanding Virtual Teams

Virtual teams are groups of people who work together from different places. They use technology to do their jobs and stay in touch with each other. These tools can be emails, video calls or chat apps like Slack.

In a virtual team, you might have members working from home or in offices all over the world.

Conflict is common when people work together, even more so in virtual teams. The lack of face-to-face contact makes it hard to see body language and eye contact. This can lead to misunderstandings.

Also, slow replies to messages can create bad feelings among team members. It's important for leaders of these kinds of teams to know how to handle conflict well.

Common Causes of Conflict in Virtual Teams

Communication gaps, interpersonal clashes, differences in work styles, and task conflict are common causes of conflict in virtual teams.

Communication Gaps

Communication gaps are a big problem in virtual teams. They can happen when team members do not reply to messages on time or miss them altogether. This can cause others to feel angry or ignored.

Email and messaging can also be tricky. These tools lack the non-verbal cues we get from body language and facial expressions during face-to-face chats. Without these cues, it's easy for misunderstandings to take place which might lead to conflict.

Interpersonal Clashes

Interpersonal clashes happen in virtual teams. These are fights between people who do not agree. In diverse teams, these clashes can occur more often. This is because different people have different ways of doing things.

The lack of face-to-face contact does not help either. It makes it hard for people to understand each other and can cause even more fights. These fights hurt the team's ability to work together and get things done well.

Differences in Work Styles

People work in different ways. Some are fast, finishing tasks before time. Others take their time to get things right. This can lead to fights in a team that works online. It is hard to see how a person works when you're not with them.

The speed at which a task is done may upset some people in the group. This gets worse during the COVID-19 pandemic as more people work from home and styles change.

Task Conflict

A task conflict happens in a team when people don't agree on the work to be done. It's common in virtual teams. Sometimes, two team members might have different views on how to finish a job.

Or they may not agree about which jobs are most important. Communication gaps can make task conflict worse. If messages or requests are missed or late, workflow can slow down and cause anger among team members.

The lack of face-to-face contact in virtual teams can also heighten this type of conflict.

Prevention Strategies for Conflict in Virtual Teams

Prevention strategies for conflict in virtual teams include building trust, setting clear roles and responsibilities, encouraging regular and effective communication, and creating a team agreement.

Building Trust

Trust is a key part of working well in virtual teams. It helps all team members feel safe to share, ask, and propose new ideas. No one needs to worry about being laughed at or having their feelings hurt when trust is strong.

A good way to build this trust is by giving regular updates and meeting on video calls often. When everyone knows what's going on in the team, they are more likely to trust each other.

Trust also grows when people see that it's okay to take part in talks and notes from those meetings are made.

Setting Clear Roles and Responsibilities

In a virtual team, each person must know their job. Here is how you can set clear roles and responsibilities:

  1. Start by listing all the tasks your team must do.
  2. Divide these tasks among your team members based on their skills.
  3. Inform each person about their specific tasks.
  4. Make sure each person knows what others are doing too.
  5. Use a tool like Hive Project Management to keep track of tasks.
  6. Check that everyone is doing their job right and at the right time.
  7. If a task has more than one step, make it clear who does each step.

Encouraging Regular and Effective Communication

Regular and effective communication is important to prevent conflict in virtual teams. Here are some strategies:

  1. Set clear expectations for communication frequency and response time.
  2. Encourage team members to use collaboration tools, like messaging apps or project management platforms, for easy communication.
  3. Schedule regular check - ins or team meetings to discuss progress, challenges, and updates.
  4. Use video calls whenever possible to enhance communication and build rapport.
  5. Create a safe space for open and honest communication, where team members can freely express their thoughts and concerns.
  6. Provide feedback on communication skills and encourage improvement when necessary.
  7. Foster a culture of active listening, where team members truly listen to each other's ideas and opinions.
  8. Celebrate successes and milestones together through virtual celebrations or recognition programs.

Creating a Team Agreement

Creating a team agreement is an important step in preventing conflict in virtual teams. This agreement helps establish clear expectations and guidelines for team members to follow.

It can cover various aspects of teamwork, such as communication protocols, work schedules, task assignments, and decision-making processes. By creating this agreement together, team members can voice their concerns and preferences, ensuring that everyone feels heard and valued.

The team agreement also promotes accountability and fosters a sense of unity within the team. Trust is crucial for preventing conflict in virtual teams as it allows team members to feel safe to express themselves without fear of retribution.

Steps to Resolve Conflict in Virtual Teams

Promptly address any issues that arise, encourage empathy and understanding among team members, organize virtual team building activities, and hold joint virtual meetings to foster open communication and resolve conflicts effectively.

Discover more strategies for conflict resolution in virtual teams by reading the full blog post.

Promptly Addressing Issues

Addressing issues promptly is crucial in managing conflicts within virtual teams. Here are some steps to take:

  1. Identify the conflict: Recognize when there is a conflict within the team, whether it's a disagreement over tasks or interpersonal tension.
  2. Gather information: Understand the perspectives of all parties involved by listening to their viewpoints and gathering relevant facts.
  3. Provide a safe space: Create an environment where team members feel comfortable expressing their concerns without fear of judgment or retaliation.
  4. Encourage open communication: Facilitate honest and respectful conversations between team members to address the issues at hand.
  5. Seek clarification: Ask questions to clarify any misunderstandings and ensure that everyone has a clear understanding of each other's perspectives.
  6. Find common ground: Look for areas of agreement or shared goals among team members to help foster collaboration and resolution.
  7. Explore options for resolution: Brainstorm potential solutions together, considering the needs and preferences of all parties involved.
  8. Take action: Agree on a course of action and implement it in a timely manner to resolve the conflict effectively.
  9. Monitor progress: Regularly check in with team members to ensure that the agreed-upon solutions are being implemented and evaluate whether further actions are necessary.
  10. Document outcomes: Keep records of how conflicts were resolved and what steps were taken to prevent similar issues in the future.

Encouraging Empathy and Understanding

Encouraging empathy and understanding is crucial when it comes to resolving conflict in virtual teams. It's important for team members to put themselves in each other's shoes and try to understand their perspectives.

Encouraging Empathy and Understanding
Encouraging Empathy and Understanding

This can be achieved through active listening, asking questions, and being open-minded. By fostering a culture of empathy and understanding, virtual teams can build stronger relationships and work together more effectively.

In addition, recognizing the challenges that everyone is facing during the COVID-19 pandemic can help create a supportive environment where team members feel valued and heard.

Organizing Virtual Team Building Activities

Organizing virtual team building activities is important for resolving conflict in virtual teams. Here are some strategies to help improve team dynamics and promote a positive work environment:

  • Plan regular team - building exercises to enhance engagement and collaboration among team members.
  • Conduct online brainstorming sessions to encourage idea sharing and problem - solving.
  • Use collaboration apps and online whiteboards to foster creativity and teamwork.
  • Implement performance monitoring tools to track employee progress and provide feedback.
  • Encourage positive online communication through private messages or discussion boards.
  • Recognize the little victories and celebrate achievements as a team.
  • Connect with your employees on an emotional level by showing empathy and understanding.
  • Utilize technology - driven employee management solutions, such as Krisp, to enhance productivity in the remote work environment.

Holding Joint Virtual Meetings

Holding joint virtual meetings is an important step in resolving conflict in virtual teams. During these meetings, team members can openly discuss their concerns and work towards finding common solutions. Here are some key points to consider:

  1. Encourage active participation from all team members.
  2. Create a safe and respectful environment for sharing opinions and ideas.
  3. Use video conferencing tools to promote face-to-face interaction.
  4. Set clear goals and agendas for the meeting to keep everyone focused.
  5. Ensure that all team members have an opportunity to speak and be heard.
  6. Foster open and honest communication by encouraging constructive feedback.
  7. Assign a facilitator or mediator to ensure smooth discussions and prevent conflicts from escalating.
  8. Take notes during the meeting to document agreements, action items, and next steps.
  9. Follow up after the meeting with a summary of key decisions and responsibilities.
  10. Holding joint virtual meetings is considered an important step in resolving conflict within virtual teams.

The Role of Leadership in Managing Virtual Team Conflicts

Leadership plays a critical role in managing conflicts within virtual teams. With the added strain of the COVID-19 pandemic, strong leadership is essential to maintain productivity and resolve conflicts effectively.

One important aspect that leaders must address is communication gaps that arise in virtual settings. Missing non-verbal cues and delayed replies can create hostility and slow down workflows.

Additionally, leaders need to navigate interpersonal clashes and misunderstandings that often occur in diverse virtual teams. Differences in work styles, such as task completion speed, can also lead to tension and conflict.

By providing guidance, encouraging open communication, and promoting understanding among team members, leaders can help prevent and resolve conflicts within virtual teams.


In conclusion, conflict is inevitable in virtual teams, but there are effective strategies to manage and resolve it. Building trust, promoting clear communication, and addressing issues promptly are crucial for preventing conflicts.

Leaders play a vital role in managing conflicts by fostering empathy and organizing team-building activities. By implementing these measures, virtual teams can work together harmoniously towards their goals and overcome challenges that arise along the way.

Related Topics: You may also be interested in learning about the importance of communication in remote teams, the role of feedback in remote teams and how to conduct effective virtual meetings.

Rob Palmer

I have been helping people build remote careers for over 20 years, so they can enjoy the same location and financial freedom that I do.

After graduating from the London University of the Arts, I worked as a journalist, then become a direct-response marketer. Launching my first online business in 2000 allowed me and my family to relocate to the other side of the planet to live a better life. I was one of the first digital nomads and still love the lifestyle that remote working allows me.

I'm now an ambassador for the concept of remote working. I help people build online careers, follow their passions and live the lifestyle of their dreams.

You can find out more about me on LinkedIn.

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