• Susan Fisher

rumour, gossip & Politics - conflict in virtual teams

Only weeks ago you were working at your desk, getting up and grabbing a coffee and a chat in the kitchen, walking past your team and stopping to swap news and see how they were doing. There were always issues but you could sit down together and talk about them.

These days lots of us are still stuck at home. We've got used to Zoom etc. and the day to day work is getting done. But the Corona pandemic has brought with it uncertainty about business direction, worries about job security and no work social life.

This is a perfect storm for conflicts based on personal likes and dislikes, rumours, gossip, office politics and power issues.

Here's an example:

A team member is worried about job security...... someone on the team who she does not particularly like seems to have ignored her input on a piece of work,....... she is unclear anyway about what her role is .... next meeting her webcam is off for the whole meeting and she doesn't tell you anything.

When you are actually in the office together every day you hear the gossip, dispel the rumours and deal with the politics as it happens.. People are also more likely to come and talk to you about issues.

It is also easier to rely on physical cues to sense when trouble is brewing - people being cold around the coffee machine etc. In a virtual team you cant' see the body language so you need to look for small changes in online behaviour which are harder to pick up.

So when we're working remotely we have more issues which are more difficult to pick up.

A lot of these can be prevented by skilful team leadership :

  • Communicate fully and very often about business direction

  • Address the issues that worry people including job security

  • Make very clear goals, priorities and expectations for the team and individually

  • Call everyone individually at least once a week

  • Talk about conflicts in the virtual teams

  • Make it ok to raise conflicts . 5 - 10 minutes before the end of meetings say " What haven't we talked about ? "

Now is the time to let the team decide together ways you can prevent and deal with the inevitable frictions that will arise.

Instead of bottling up problems the team can learn to handle them and sail through the storm.