How to Lead a Successful Remote Team: Navigating and Managing Conflicts

Many empirical studies have pointed out that when teams work together remotely, levels of conflict increase. This rise of conflicts can be due to distrust (caused by the “invisibility” of team members’ behaviors),[1] misinterpretation of intentions (caused by lack of social context of email and phone communication),[2] or misanticipation of others’ decisions or actions (caused by delayed communication).[3]

To make the matters worse, conflicts within teams are not often visible to the supervisors,[4] not to mention virtual teams.[5]  Unless the conflicts, especially relationship conflicts, escalate to complaints to the management, the only way for leaders to be aware of the conflicts is decreased employee morale and performance, or increased turnover.

Moreover, in times when turnover is less likely to be an option (high unemployment rate), these invisible and unhandled conflicts can lead to much more deviant work behaviors such as tardiness, aggression toward coworker, and a delay in completing tasks (which can also negatively interfere with the team’s performance).

One way for a leader to notice and manage conflicts while working remotely is to keep your team members in sync. When the team members are out of sight, we should at least keep them updated and informed. Hosting weekly update meetings can not only help team members connect with each other — but also provide opportunity for the leader to discover conflicts (task, relationship and process) when it first emerges.

As we know, timing is an important factor in conflict resolution.

Leaders should also encourage and set an example for employees to become involved in off-the-grid communications. These help improve team member relationships and have been found to reduce conflict in virtual teams.1

Another way to manage conflicts is to create and strengthen a shared group identity.[6] I’ve discussed the power of lead by defining US on Lead Read Today previously. Simply put, when holding a uniformed sense of group identity, individuals will be motivated to work toward the group goals and feel more committed to the group’s culture, value and beliefs.

Such a sense of unity can help align individual goals and tasks, which can help mitigate many potential conflicts. It also helps improve communication, reduce competitiveness within groups, increase consensus and encourage sharing of information, which, in turn, can increase trust and reduce conflict.

Even though the team is geographically separated, this shared value can still hold everyone together.

To successfully define us, leaders should communicate the group goals, values and visions frequently and clearly. Leaders can use these visions and values to inspire and excite followers with a vivid picture of the future, which is especially important in times of frustration and chaos. You can also show care and support to your team members and others because the caring and supportive culture will create a strong sense of commitment — as well as motivate team members to work toward the group goal.

Last but not least, to effectively manage conflicts, leaders should keep all communication channels open and available for all team members. Doing this can not only help you identify conflicts at its earliest sign, but it can also help convey contextual information that are lost due to virtual communication.


[1] Li, M., & Prewett, M. (2019). Building trust in modern teams [Research White Paper]. Lead Read Today. Retrieved from:

[2] Byron, K. (2008). Carrying too heavy a load? The communication and miscommunication of emotion by email. Academy of Management Review, 33, 309-327.

[3] Breuer, C., Hüffmeier, J., & Hertel, G. (2016). Does trust matter more in virtual teams? A meta-analysis of trust and team effectiveness considering virtuality and documentation as moderators. Journal of Applied Psychology101, 1151-1177.

[4] Kolb, D.M., & Putnam, L.L. (1992). The multiple faces of conflict in organizations. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 13, 311-324.

[5] Armstrong, D. J., & P. Cole. (2002). Managing distances and differences in geographically distributed work groups. P. J. Hinds, S. Kiesler, Eds. (pp. 167–186). Distributed Work. MIT Press: Cambridge, MA.

[6] Hinds, P.J., & Bailey, D.E. (2003). Out of sight, out of sync: Understanding conflict in distributed teams. Organizational Science, 14, 615-632.

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