Conflict in the workplace is always a tumultuous experience. It ruins morale, lowers productivity, and creates a toxic office environment. 


When you have the walls of a screen in the middle, it’s all the more difficult. 

Remote and hybrid work have their pros; they have been shown to improve productivity, reduce stress, and provide work-life balance. However, especially with remote work, when conflict arises, without having an in-person meeting or interaction, it can be exceedingly difficult to manage. Conflicts happen digitally, with disagreements carried out not through face-to-face arguments, but over emails, texts and intraoffice channels like MS Teams or Slack. 

Being able to manage remote work conflict is essential for managers and leaders in organisations. It’s a challenging, new environment for everyone; but as remote work grows, to ensure that a toxic culture is not cultivated, managers must be proactive and should have plans in place to address workplace conflicts that are not just within the confines of the four-walled offices. 


What Is ‘Work Conflict’?

We have a group of individuals working closely for hours. People bring different personalities, work styles, and perspectives to the workplace and therefore, will naturally find themselves in conflict. Friction or opposition resulting from actual or perceived differences or incompatibilities is a normal part of human interaction.  

We can’t control that. 

In fact, 85% of employees are reported to have experienced some kind of workplace conflict. However, what we can do is keep the fallout to a minimum, help with mediation, and ensure the team and job duties are not affected. Work conflict can arise from the professional side, whether it be a difference of opinion or idea for work projects; or on a personal end, opposing personalities and beliefs. 


The Exclusive Issues Of Remote Work Conflict

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder – not in the case of remote working. Instead, conflict is left to fester, and due to being isolated at home, employees can rarely get a reprieve or decompress with a deskmate. It also doesn’t help that it’s difficult to separate home and work in a remote environment, resulting in stress and, eventually, burnout. 

In addition, if team members have never met in person before, the chance is higher than what it would be in “real life”. Online, we miss the visual cues and tone we would get in-person, assumptions are made and conflicts arise around those assumptions. Virtual disagreements can start over the most minor misunderstandings and escalate very quickly.

The Effects of Conflict

Conflict in the workplace can severely damage team morale and cause excessive stress for those employees who are caught in the middle. In addition, it can result in team members taking sides, and eventually, you end up with a divide. 

Work productivity reduces significantly and, in serious cases, can result in increased absenteeism, further compounding the issue. Most importantly, it diminishes trust. Without trust, team members begin to withhold information, which can drive unhealthy competition – at the cost of your business. 


8 Ways To Manage Remote Work Conflict

1. Foster A Psychologically Safe Environment

To mitigate conflict, leaders and managers should now be trained to learn how to handle conflict in the workplace. This goes through fostering an environment that is psychologically safe for employees. A psychologically safe environment is about letting employees feel comfortable and open to providing their opinions, giving feedback, and asking questions without being criticised or humiliated for doing so. This kind of atmosphere fosters innovation, openness, and collaboration. 

It also empowers employees and encourages them to try new things and come to their managers about issues and problems they are facing. An open-door policy like this ensures that bottled-up negative feelings don’t bubble up and gives the manager a chance to stop a potential (and usually impending) fallout. It’s much easier to prevent the conflict in the first place, instead of putting the genie back in the bottle when the damage is already done. 


2. Have Weekly One-On-One Catch Ups

Having individual time with your team members is key to proactively resolving conflict. For example, arranging a weekly video call where your employee can freely discuss any issues with you is the perfect way to ensure resentment and negative feelings aren’t repressed (which eventually explodes). 

For it to be successful, you must ensure that you have already cultivated a safe environment in which your employees feel comfortable discussing problems and asking questions without fear of ridicule or reprimand. In addition, you should be open and frank that this meeting is not exclusively about work performance but a way to check in on the relationship side.


3. Schedule Regular Online Team Meetings

While individual catch-ups are great, team meetings are just as important. It’s a chance and an excuse for the team to come together and brainstorm as well as bond. These meetings should be at least weekly and are where employees can let the team know what they’re up to and ask questions or express concerns. 

They also don’t have to be just work-related; you can arrange virtual team-building meetings or even a Friday afternoon drinks session, especially if the team hasn’t met in person. This allows for a more casual conversation and lets colleagues have a relaxed catch-up with their team members without work being the dominant topic. 


4. Be Proactive

It’s always better to be proactive than reactive. In a remote setting, managers should be on the lookout for offhand comments and even the smallest of negative interactions. While you should heed caution in instantly jumping in, it’s good to take note and try to get to the bottom of them during the one-on-one meetings. 

Try to understand the motivations and find out why certain employees are not getting along. If it’s something you can fix, then you should right away. However, if this is more a case of conflicting personalities, you should set clear expectations and emphasise that teams must work together and be respectful of each other. 


5. Set Clear Expectations

Having clear expectations and guidelines removes ambiguity, especially when it comes to hierarchy. While many companies are embracing a flat organisation or a more casual hierarchy model, knowing where people stand and understanding those intricacies can mitigate offence given and taken. 

On top of this, expectations regarding protocols and how work is to be done and by whom ensure people don’t step on each other’s toes. Clear lines between job positions and roles make it easier for employees to interact with one another, as everyone knows what they are supposed to do. 


6. Utilise Online Programs

With so many programs designed to cater to hybrid and remote working, it’s time to utilise them. The two big ones, Microsoft Teams and Slack offer many ways to keep the workplace culture alive. Dedicated channels that can compartmentalise different aspects within the department can not only keep things organised but also be another way for employees to know what each other is working on. 

Using channels instead of private messages is ideal, as everyone in the team can see what’s happening, and if a particular instance or incident is referred to, their colleagues can easily find it. With everyone on the same page, it reduces conflict and ensures that people on the team aren’t left out. 

For tasks, you may want to use other programs like CoSchedule, where you can see what projects and tasks your colleagues are working on and if they’ve been finished. It can even be set up so that when one job is finished, it can trigger another task for a different employee to do. It simplifies the workflow and is a great failsafe if someone forgets to alert another about a project or assignment being completed – reducing conflict.


7. Conflict Management Classes

A study found that only 44% of employees had received conflict management training. Learning how to address and resolve conflict within the workplace is essential for all employees, not just leaders or managers. Training or a course for employees to complete can help keep conflict from spiralling. Not knowing how to resolve conflict appropriately, especially as a manager, can hinder the team and worsen the issue. 


8. Arrange An In-Person Gathering

Of course, this is only if you can. An in-person gathering can be complicated to arrange if the team is remote; however, if possible, it’s a fantastic way to foster team bonding and quell any potential misunderstandings that may have occurred online. 

To encourage participation, make sure to arrange it during work hours. Employees don’t want to attend events on top of a long working day during out-of-office hours. Especially if the employee is working remotely. A lunch or even brunch is a perfect way to sit down and chat informally with colleagues. Additionally, you should consider organising team-building activities like putt-putt, escape rooms, and laser tag, to name a few.

These activities are designed to improve communication, which is especially critical in remote working. You can improve morale, foster teamwork, and give everyone an excellent opportunity to observe and get to know everyone’s personalities (outside of the Teams / Zoom / Slack realm). Team-building exercises are also fun and help employees de-stress.


Conflict is never easy, and when it’s remote – that’s a whole different story. The aim of resolving conflict of any form whether it be in-person or virtual, is to be proactive. Building relationships within the team, learning conflict management, and fostering a safe and open environment are key. Managing to effectively resolve conflict can turn potentially damaging situations into positive opportunities, allowing to reduce stress and preserve integrity, enrich creativity, improve teamwork, increase employee morale and engagement.


Celine Senior HR Advisor

About the Author:

With over 20 years' experience in Human Resources, working across both government & private sectors, Celine is an expert at her craft. As a Senior HR Advisor, Celine has extensive experience working across different industries, advising clients on a wide range of HR topics.
Read more about Celine Rethore.