Conflict management in virtual organizations

By on February 11, 2013

Over time, there has been a substantial change in the structure and size of businesses. The businesses have grown in their sizes and the traditional simple organizational structures do not exist anymore. Today’s businesses run into a hyper-competitive market environment and the human resources are considered to be the assets for winning competitive advantage. The organizations now employ a workforce that is large in numbers and diverse in nature. Managing such large and diverse workforce is not easy and thus the organizations often divide their employees into various groups or teams, designated to accomplish a common objective. But managing teams is not as simple as it seems. Today’s organizations believe to hire the best talent available in the marketplace and as such the constraint regarding geographical location of the job-seekers is usually overlooked by offering them the facility to work from home. This results in virtual organizations. So, the teams are also managed today under physical workplaces as well as virtual workplaces. But conflicts arise under both these situations.

Workplace Conflict: Past and present

Workplace conflict has been defined very simply by Dana (2001) as, “a condition between or among workers whose jobs are interdependent, who feel angry, who perceive the others being at fault, and who act in ways that cause a business problem.” A very common mistake that most organizations do is to treat conflict as always devastating. However, they must learn to differentiate between constructive conflict and destructive conflict. Constructive conflicts often lead to better ideas and innovation in the organization. While in the past organizations mainly focused on conflict avoidance. Today businesses rather need a proper conflict management system. Over the time business scenario has changed and this has changed management’s outlook towards workplace conflict also. Earlier the employees were told to ‘let go’ the conflicts among team members but now they are asked to face and resolve conflicts. So, a conflict management system is an integral part of today’s workplaces.

Workplace conflict in virtual workplaces

It is easier to resolve conflicts in physical workplaces as compared to the virtual ones because the members in virtual organizations don’t get a chance to meet in person and solve their differences. Since the team members rarely meet, there is hardly any emotional bonding among them. This result in a lack of understanding, empathy and trust among virtual team members and misinterpretations are a common scene. Moreover, virtual teams often include cross-cultural members and a difference in language and origin often lead to conflicts among them. No matter what is the reason for conflict, the workplace conflicts are most of the time hazardous as they result into loss of time, productivity, employees’ morale, firm’s reputation, customers and the profits.

Conflict management in virtual organizations

Although it is difficult to manage conflict in virtual organizations, it is very important to have a conflict management system in place. Managers’ emotional intelligence plays a critical role in conflict resolution. The members of the team must be selected very cautiously so as to minimize the incidents of conflict. The background of the applicants must be thoroughly checked before hiring them. They should be trained to take conflict as an obvious part of the job so that they don’t panic and can solve regular workplace conflicts themselves. These members must be given opportunities to interact with each other face-to-face if possible or through the use of technologies like web-conferencing etc. There should be a proper delegation of responsibilities and the organizational policies must be transparent and communicated well. Then too if any conflict arises, it should be addressed on a priority basis before it is too late. But it would be better if management does not interfere in the early stages of conflict; they should instead ask the members involved in the conflict to come up with solutions.


  • Dana, D. (2001). Conflict Resolution. The McGraw-Hill Companies.
  • Hayes, J. (July, 2008). Workplace Conflict and How Businesses can Harness it to Thrive. CPP Global Human Capital Report.