Managing Increased Conflict and Tension in Remote Working Teams

Aaron Dinin, PhD
6 min readApr 16, 2020

After the COVID-19 pandemic forced companies around the world to institute remote working policies, “experts” flooded the Internet with tutorials, workshops, webinars, and other kinds of “help content” designed to teach people how to use remote working tools. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s also not the only thing people need. Learning to work remotely isn’t just about mastering the technologies. Remote work alters the social dynamics of workplace communities, and we need to be helping people understand those things, too.

Why remote working is hard

The company I ran prior to taking my current position had a 100% remote team. If I’m being honest, it was terrible. Not the company or the people… they were great. But working remotely was my least favorite part of that job. I didn’t fully understand why until I moved into my current position, a job that — until the pandemic — was 100% in-person.

My previous, remote-based company struggled with communication. Despite spending hours in video conferences each week and using every great online collaboration tool we could find — Slack, Trello, Salesforce, Jira, whatever — none of those are perfect substitutes for sharing a physical office space with your coworkers.

Yes, sharing a physical office space has its drawbacks — like when the person in the next cubicle brings a tunafish sandwich for lunch and you’re forced to smell it half the day. But, in-person working environments are filled with dozens of micro-engagements between coworkers that are critical to building healthy team dynamics. Online tools haven’t found a good way to replicate those micro-engagements yet, and it either leads to or magnifies workplace tension between coworkers.

Now that many of us are more than a month into our experiences working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m guessing many of you reading this are feeling the impacts of those magnified tensions. Let’s see if we can understand why.

How micro-engagements build community

While meetings are the obvious foundation of communication at most companies, for in-person teams, meetings primarily dictate what work needs to be done. The communication that…

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Aaron Dinin, PhD

I teach entrepreneurship at Duke. Software Engineer. PhD in English. I write about the mistakes entrepreneurs make since I’ve made plenty. More @ aarondinin.com