Managing virtual teams: how to manage conflicts and increase cohesion

As time goes by and technological capabilities increase, the way we work and exchange information change. In the past to get information for one place to another, many more steps were needed to even begin. All documents and reports needed to be tediously created by hand, delivered by hand, discussed face to face, and presented in front of a physical crowd. Each time managers sent employees out to work in other states or even countries a certain amount of uncertainty was involved because at times the manager wasn’t even sure what to expect, much less the team member. It’s not easy to manage virtual teams, you know?

Now we are living in a world with a lot less physical connection both figuratively and literally. Teams are not only working in office, but, from home or even internationally. This type of work is now commonplace but it doesn’t come without its repercussions. The uncertainty factor still place a large role in why a lot of virtual teams bump into many issues that could be avoided. There are still many issues to be sorted out, so lets take a look at some of the main culprits of problems that com about when managing virtual teams.

Managing and lessening conflict in virtual teams

Managing conflict in virtual teams is a monster in and of its own. There are many techniques used today to resolve conflicts amongst teammates whom work together on a daily basis. However, when online, it’s a horse of a different color. What works with face to face conflict won’t always resolve what Is happening in an environment that is much more disconnected.

Keith Ferrazzi From the Harvard Business Review writes in his article ‘’ When it comes to workplace conflicts, the virtual environment is a double-edged sword, because of the lack of face-to-face contact, which helps to accelerate empathy, task-related disputes can more quickly devolve into relationship conflicts.’’  We have all felt it before, we feel more powerful behind the keyboard when we don’t have to deal with the backlash upfront and personally, so maybe you would write a bit more aggressively than you would speak in a face to face meeting.

What was once an interpersonal conflict about an idea quickly becomes a personal conflict about a misunderstanding, or someone’s character. And on top of that it can go on for some time allowing the problem to fester if there is no mediation. Normally in an average work environment if there is a disagreement about a topic it can normally be solved through communication, there is no ambiguity in the tone of each others voices and body language. However, when online there is no tone of voice, nor is there body language. If there is a minor issue about and idea or the way something is done. It can turn ugly and fast. Lindred Greer from the Stanford Graduate School of Business says in this interview on Youtube:

‘’Communicating with a coworker through video conference calls such as Skype or, even worse, solely through email or non video calls can be a petri dish for conflict and a type of conflict that escalates quickly. That’s because colleagues are more likely to take disagreements personally when challenges to their ideas arrive in their inbox from colleagues who are miles or even oceans apart instead of in the next cubicle. They can’t see the context or the nuance or even the facial expressions of the person who is engaging in this task conflict,”

It is so easy for this conflicts to surge up without managers even noticing. In virtual teams It is always important that managers stay connected at all times. One would think that having all of this freedom would generate even more productivity but, without the right tools in place, this freedom could build just the right recipe for demise.

>> Recommended readings:  Working Towards a Culture of Accountability in the Workplace

Community in the Virtual Teams

Like everything, virtual teams also have their advantages and their disadvantages. Some of the advantages to having employees that work from home or out of the office, could be that they feel more liberated and produce better quality work. Or maybe they can be more flexible, allowing them to alieve other stressors of the overworked employee. With all these advantages and more, how could there be a downside to not having to drag oneself into the work office and get that 9-5 in?

Managing virtual teams can be a tricky matter especially when it comes to building a sense of community in the virtual workplace.  Camaraderie is something that is exceedingly important in the workplace ‘’Research shows that workers are happier in their jobs when they have friendships with co-workers’’, Christine Riordan says in a Harvard Business Review article “We All Need Friends At Work,”  ‘’Employees report that when they have friends at work, their job is more fun, enjoyable, worthwhile, and satisfying… Friendships boost employee satisfaction by 50% and people with a best friend at work are seven times more likely to engage fully in their work’’.

While camaraderie is something that can form almost naturally in the physical workplace, it can be a challenge in managing virtual teams because employees work alone a lot of the time, and when cooperation is needed between employees normally, it is through emails or passed through the manager to get pushed along and delegated. So what are some ways we can go about fixing this problem? Let’s look at some ways to identify and rectify problems with building cohesion in a virtual team.

  • Recreate the watercooler, social part of work: More often than not employees stop by the office of another co-worker and ask a question about work followed up by the amazing 42-yard pass that Jay Cutler didn’t make. Now there is a small connection, it could even be just a small pass at the water cooler. All of these little encounters build up camaraderie over time. But managers can get the same effect even when managing virtual teams it just takes a bit of creativity.
  • Open the office door back up on a interpersonal level: One interesting way to recreate a bit of the pop into one’s office situation is to utilize Skype calling whenever you have a question, during a certain part of the day. For example, instead of always simply sending a cold message or email asking for information or an answer. Employees can set up a time during the day, say for a few hours, and take video calls from other co-workers. This gives the opportunity for virtual co-workers to talk about work, and maybe get to know each other’s interests a bit deeper all the while building that cohesive team.

>> Check this out: Guide for Effective Meetings – How to use time well and deal with anxiety

Incorporate an Online Task Manager to Lead your Virtual team

Online task managers have been surging up over the past 10 years, and they have  flown under the radar of many companies and teams. When managing virtual teams they are a dream come true. It is a space where managers can lay out all of their team’s projects, tasks, and overall goal in one area for teams to work in a very cohesive manner, even while being spread out across the world.

Earlier I talked about conflict behind the keyboard in emails. Task managers can help remedy this problem. Instead of using email to send around files, reports, and general information. Task managers are a platform where employees can not only work together, but also they can share files and communicate ideas about the files in a semi-public manner. Giving employees a sense of communication amongst a team instead of bickering between two people.

On these task managers, team leaders will have the opportunity to incorporate all projects, tasks, and teams under one umbrella. Ultimately lessening the need for e-mails in general. An area where all employees can work together also brings about a sense of camaraderie giving employees the change of after meeting putting a face to the name and seeing how everyone contributes to the project and the bigger picture.

A great task manager that incorporates all of this and more is Runrun.it. Managing Virtual teams is all about knowing what’s going on in your team/project(s) at all times. Who is doing what and when what will be finished. Runrun.it gives that ability to managers. After sorting out the projects and tasks. Managers can then set the priority of tasks for team members, to ensure that what was asked is being done in the order the team leader needs it to be done. Employees press play when they are working on said task. Moreover, pause when they are taking a break, go home for the day, or if they need to move to another task in the system.  If files are needed for a task it is all already inside the system and can be easily shared to one another, no more sifting through countless emails, nor waiting for that one file that someone forgot to send.

Runrun.it brining virtual teams closer together

Meet Runrun.it – the tool that dispenses email for internal communication because it centralizes the tasks of all teams and reduces the number of follow-up meetings and the friction between leaders and teams by producing automatic activity reports. Try it free here.

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