Remote Work Conflict – A Reality

In a traditional workplace, we have all experienced conflicts in different forms be it disagreements or arguments or differing points of view or some irrational dislike of another person. Conflict is inevitable. If not handled appropriately, conflicts may end up disrupting our team’s performance and vitiate the overall organizational environment. This becomes even more of a challenge in a remote work situation. Without face-to-face interactions, the conflict could be avoided and sometimes not even recognized. A key would be to be able to watch out for and spot conflict at the first instance so that it could be addressed and not allowed to escalate into a full-blown conflict situation. How can we even identify the causes for conflict in remote working?

The challenge of remote teams

According to an SHRM survey, compared to previous years, 44 percent of HR professionals report intensified political volatility at work in 2020[1]. This is in itself a paradox, considering the opportunity to work from home as well as the plethora of communication tools. It is more possible for people to misinterpret another person’s message while texting or email messaging. If one person feels threatened reading the message of the other person, there are more chances for a conflict to occur. The temptation to be on multiple apps also is a distraction and one may not be really present to the other/ meeting/ conversation.

Video helps to resolve it to a great extent. Face-to-face interaction creates less chance of miscommunication. It gives us the opportunity to observe the expressions and body language which tells us what the person is trying to say beyond words.

WFH may tend to leave an information gap between teams. No clarity of roles and objectives, delays in getting information requested and deliberate games played ultimately lead to the feeling of uncertainty and job insecurity.

In today’s digitalized context, the ability to be self-aware and spot out the conflict at first glance is the key attribute a leader must develop to lead a successful remote work in enhancing productivity and strengthening work relationships

Moreover, the time and energy taken to collaborate on a task may be more than in face-to-face interaction. Patience and a listening ear will go a long way in smoothening the process.

The current environment is also a cause for significant stress with restrictions to travel, freedom, isolation, loneliness, inability to bond at work, and limitations on social interaction. This also aggravates the tension and leads to friction often damaging work relationships.

Professionals suggest several causes of workplace conflict, including:

1.     Character differences

  • Workplace behaviors observed as frustrating.
  • Differences over work systems
  • Differences in viewpoints attributable to age, sex, or upbringing

2.     Lack of information

  • Unclarified roles in the workplace.
  • Competing job duties or poor implementation of a job description—for example, placing a nonsupervisory employee in an unofficial position of “supervising” another employee [2]
  • Apparent inequalities of resources.

3.     Communication gap

  • Poor communication, including misunderstood comments
  • Unmet needs in the workplace.
  • Mismanagement of organizational change management and evolution.


Like atoms, when people try to collaborate, they collide. However, the friction should lead to massive amounts of creative energy through win-win breakthrough solutions.