Some business owners picture their companies as well-oiled machines with employees working collaboratively and solving problems like clockwork. But, the truth is there's always internal issues and conflicts popping up, and managing that friction is a vital part of the job for anyone in a position of responsibility.

In modern business, most new technology helps teams overcome roadblocks. For example, an online booking system works better than a telephone alternative and an email marketing campaign is far easier to manage than direct mail.

But, when it comes to handling a professional conflict within remote teams, it's often far trickier to solve the problem over distance than it is in person.

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When people don't communicate face-to-face, personal conflicts are sometimes quicker to arise. Since you don't have the context of body language and facial expression, employees can quickly fall victim to misunderstanding, resentment, and sometimes outright anger.

If your team is experiencing such issues, or if you want to prepare for one that might come up, read one for some tips on handling conflict within remote customer support teams.

How to Manage Conflict on a Remote Customer Service Team

If you manage remote teams, you need to get on top of virtual conflict resolution and fast. And, even if you don't have team members working from home, it's likely you soon will. In the last four years, remote jobs in the United States have increased by more than 20%.

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With more employees joining your remote team, your chances of a conflict arising will slowly increase. So, below are some straightforward tips you can use to handle friction when it affects your team.

1. Set clear procedures and protocols.

For some businesses, remote work might be new for your employees. It doesn't hurt, then, to give your team a clear framework to work by. Set procedures that make interaction across your team more straightforward and be sure to explain any protocol that's specific to the remote role.

Here are some things you might want to touch on:

  • What information must be shared between employees
  • How workers should share different information
  • Who needs to be informed on the progress of different projects

You should also draw up a conflict resolution plan. This shows your team that you know problems will arise, but they don't have to become a major roadblock. Get them to buy in to the plan by explaining that having such a document is helpful for everyone.

2. Lead by example.

Whatever your leadership style is, actions often speak louder than words.

When managing a remote team, make sure to lead by example. Follow your own procedures and try not to create conflicts yourself. Management can do this by being mindful of what they say to team members and resolving disagreements amicably when they arise.

3. Build remote teams based on geography and personal characteristics.

Depending on how your business operates, not all team members will always work together. You may have a select group of staff that works remotely due to the type of job they perform.

If that's the case, you should first consider geographical location. Just because it's a remote team doesn't mean members can't get together in-person if they wish to. Some projects need regular collaboration and in those cases it may be handy for individuals to meet face-to-face if possible.

It's also your responsibility as a manager to boost productivity levels. One way to do this is by building teams that you know will mesh together. In an ideal world, employees work as well with one colleague as any other, but, in reality, there are team members who rub each other the wrong way and that friction negatively impacts productivity. When hiring and training new staff, be sure to take note of their personal characteristics and group together trainees that you feel would work together productively.

4. Host kick-off & catch-up meetings.

It's easy to underestimate a good old-fashioned meeting. We're all guilty of sometimes thinking we'd get far more done if we didn't have to attend some, but the fact is, those occasions are when an entire team can get together and be very productive.

Meetings aid information sharing and help growing workforces stay organized and keep pulling in the same direction. According to the graphic below, 80% of executives say this type of communication is important if you want your company to grow.

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Keeping team members on the same page helps limit the chance of conflict. For instance, two team members shouldn't clash because they've each been approaching the same task from separate directions.

When managing a remote team, try to hold virtual meetings at the start of projects and catch-up sessions as the project progresses. Kick-off meetings are especially important in the case of brand-new remote teams as they brief workers on the project at hand and help everyone get to know each other.

Simple, fun icebreakers are also an excellent idea for such meetings. They help connect different team members which makes it less likely that future disagreements will escalate.

5. Recognize achievements as a team.

Promoting camaraderie within your remote team is crucial because teams with a higher level of morale are less likely to foster serious conflicts.

One thing that's proven to aid team morale is recognizing achievement. Employee satisfaction is higher when organizations notice and reward good work.

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Recognizing achievement should be a collaborative experience. Get the whole team involved in celebrating each other's hard work. That will boost morale and ease tensions, and will also motivate team members to root for their colleagues and succeed as a team. Conflicts are far less likely to escalate when you have this kind of positive environment in your remote team.

6. Encourage informal interactions as well as professional ones.

Remote workers don't see each other in the break room or walk together to work. Often, they might not communicate at all, apart from asking work-related questions.

Keeping communication professional isn't by itself a bad thing, but having no social or friendly interaction at all can create relationships primed for conflict.

Remote interactions feel less human than face-to-face ones, making it much easier for participants to butt heads. It's the same kind of psychology that makes people say things on social media that they never would in real life. If your colleague is little more to you than an email address or phone number, you'll subconsciously treat them differently.

As a manager, you can avoid this by promoting informal interactions. Perhaps, you could set up a messaging thread for your team that's devoted to non-work topics. Or, you might adopt a music streaming account for the company to listen to together. Team members could then share track recommendations and discuss their favorite artists. Even a virtual coffee hour is an effective way to encourage casual conversation within your team.

7. Keep your virtual door open for feedback.

So far, we've mostly talked about lessening the chance of serious conflict and keeping significant discord to a minimum. That doesn't mean, though, that conflicts or problems will never arise. When they do, you must be in a position to solve them decisively.

The first thing you can do is let your team know there's somewhere to turn when they need help. Make sure all workers understand that you're available if any problems occur. If someone does bring an issue to you, listen to them, and take them seriously. Then, act upon what you've heard.

How you resolve each conflict will depend on its nature and those involved. Often, you'll simply need to facilitate communication between the parties. Host a video conference or call to get things out in the open and stop the conflict from festering into a serious issue.

For more ways to handle team friction, read through these conflict resolution skills.

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Originally published Jun 23, 2020 8:00:00 AM, updated June 23 2020

Topics:

Customer Service Skills