Conflict in Organizations: The Challenges of Remote Working

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A leader holds a video call with her remote team.

Two of the most important aspects that contribute to an organization running smoothly are effective communication and conflict management. When creating goals and strategizing plans, team members often encounter problems that require active communication to resolve. That challenge increases when traditional organizations transition, voluntarily or not, to a work climate that is fully remote. Workplace conflicts may manifest differently in remote situations and be more difficult to identify and address.

Building and maintaining a harmonious workplace in both traditional and remote settings benefits organizations in many ways. Especially during a time when many organizations are working fully remote, team leaders and members should practice their conflict resolution skills. Organizational leaders can deploy different strategies to mitigate the negative impact of conflict in organizations.

Individuals who are interested in stepping into leadership roles in both traditional and remote settings may benefit from an advanced degree in the field, such as an online Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership.

The Importance of a Positive Organizational Environment

Leaders should understand that conflict is an inevitable aspect of organizations. No matter how efficiently individuals work together, issues always arise. Instead of fearing or avoiding conflict, leaders should acknowledge how conflict can bring about positive changes in an organization. That said, leaders should try to establish and maintain a work environment that focuses on harmony and minimizes the negative effects of conflict. A positive organizational environment enables employees to work better, as it promotes safety, recognizes goals and cultivates growth.

Creating a cohesive environment can increase production and employee well-being in both traditional and remote workplaces. Members of an organization cannot work effectively in situations where they feel uncomfortable because of disagreements between their co-workers and managers. When a work environment is tense, employees experience more health issues, overall production decreases and employee retention suffers.

Addressing conflict in organizations can be very different in remote settings since members of an organization are not physically together. Cultivating community among employees and boosting morale can be difficult for leaders who are not physically on site.

What Remote Conflict Looks Like

Transitioning to remote platforms is not always simple or easy, particularly for employees who have never worked completely online. Many organizations deal with technological issues, from updating or purchasing new software to investing in brand-new platforms. Also, communicating via email, Slack and other project management portals can be challenging for individuals who are used to speaking in person with their co-workers or bosses. Without body language, vocal intonation and eye contact, addressing ordinary project challenges and simple issues may be more difficult.
Relationship building is another challenge that often causes conflict in remote organizations. Individuals who are unable to work well together through online platforms can impact productivity, increase stress and damage employee retention. Furthermore, a conflict of interest may arise if employees are only focused on reaching their individual short-term goals rather than overall organizational goals.

The isolating nature of remote work may intensify the stress-related consequences of organizational conflicts. Organizational leaders should pay attention to any changes in their employees, such as an increasing use of negative language or a significant number of recurring mistakes. These indicators can enable leaders to recognize when their employees are in conflict or under intense pressure.

The Role of Leaders in Resolving Conflict

Leaders must develop strategies for resolving conflict to ensure the success of their organizations during a transition to remote work. Strategies as simple as scheduling regular meetings and check-ins can be useful. Whether meeting with employees through video conferences or merely taking time for phone calls, leaders can identify potential problems before they evolve into major conflicts.

Regularly meeting with team members individually and collectively can help leaders identify early-stage behavior in employees who may not be respecting the ideas or decisions of their co-workers. Another way to alleviate conflict in organizations is by using online communication platforms and technologies to create a virtual “open-door” policy. If team members feel comfortable regularly approaching their leader with opinions and ideas, it can help improve communication and de-escalate problematic situations.

Leaders should clearly delineate levels of responsibility for team members so everyone understands their role in a project. When problems arise, leaders should use their interpersonal and teamwork skills — such as eliciting different opinions to foster a sense of strategic development — to steer conflicts in positive directions. Allowing team members to approach new problems with unique responses can inspire and encourage individuals who are still adjusting to an entirely new way of working.

Learn More About How to Become an Effective Organizational Leader

As more organizations transition to remote platforms, the demand for effective leaders will continue to expand. A leader’s ability to mediate and resolve conflict plays an integral role in whether or not a remote organization can be successful. From setting clear expectations for employees to being proactive about communication, leaders must cultivate a positive remote workplace.

If you are interested in pursuing a career in leadership, in either traditional or remote organizations, consider Rider University’s online Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership degree. In addition to a robust curriculum, the program offers a concentration in Developing People and Organizations.

Discover how this program can help you develop the skills to effectively address conflict in organizations as you pursue your professional goals.

Recommended Readings

Employee Training and Development Programs and Methods

Leadership Careers: Top Opportunities in Organizations

What Is Transformational Leadership? A Model of Motivation


Forbes, “Make Sure That Remote Working Supercharges Your Culture – and Doesn’t Stall It”

Forbes, “Three Warning Signs That Your Remote Employees Are Starting To Crack Under The Stress Of Working From Home” 

Fortune, “3 Ways to Manage Conflict When You Work Remotely”

Houston Chronicle, “The Effect of Conflict Within an Organization”

Houston Chronicle, “Four Types of Conflict in Organizations”

Houston Chronicle, “The Importance of a Positive Environment in the Workplace”

Indeed, “Positive Working Environment: Definition and Characteristics”

InterAction, How to Lead a Conflict-Positive Organization