Working remotely can be toxic
Many employees enjoy working from home, but sadly working remotely can be toxic
There are a number of reasons for working remotely. You might be part of a distributed team in a different geographic location to the main office or leader, or you have made a personal choice to work from home.
Many thought that if they were able to work from home that some of the problems found in a physical workplace would be solved. They were wrong. The problem was just shifting to a different environment.
Sexual harassment continues, exclusion and micromanagement are rife. Many organisations haven’t set up the necessary routines and rituals to manage hybrid or remote teams.
Turnover is significant and over 30% of people are leaving jobs within 6 months if hired remotely and 40% say they intend to leave within 6 months.
But whatever the reason, it can be possible for remote working to be non-inclusive or even toxic. Remote teams still need special attention to ensure they are inclusive..
Definition of a toxic work environment
What does “toxic work environment” mean?
A toxic work environment is one where employees find it difficult to do their jobs or feel part of the team or organisation’s mission, or progress in their careers because of a negative atmosphere created by coworkers, supervisors, or the company culture itself. This can be active via deliberate acts of aggression or discrimination, or unintentional and passive micro-aggressions, such as causing a person to feel excluded or that they don’t belong.
How working remotely can be toxic
1. Lack of in-person options
Whether you are working at a distance out of choice, or because of organisational structure, we all need opportunities to connect with peers or bosses
Many employees enjoy working from home, but not everyone does and not everyone can. Many employees miss the separation between home and work—they might welcome a workplace that promotes focus and collaboration, or they may struggle to balance at-home responsibilities such as parenting and caring roles with work-related tasks. Maybe going to the office is an escape from an abusive relationship, domestic responsibilities or a lack of space.
If organisations don’t offer opportunities to work in some sort of office space, issues that are obvious in person can be harder to detect. Many leaders are not trained and miss these altogether.
2. Difficulties building relationships
Because remote work can be isolating it can be difficult to build and maintain strong relationships. Onboarding into a remote team is harder and many organisations don’t do this properly leading to feelings of isolation. This is why we see many new hires in remote roles leaving within the first six months. 3Plus spoke to one remote worker who did not speak to her manager in the first month after being hired.
Organisations need onboarding and team-building routines and rituals to include all and to build a sense of belonging.
3. Out of sight out of mind
Proximity bias is real. Those who are closer to the centres of decision-making may be given priority for promotions and stretch projects. It’s important for leaders to make sure that all are considered for all opportunities. However, research suggests that it’s senior managers who are not working in the office which is a fact that needs to be considered.
4. Lack Of Recognition And Reward
Lack of recognition is one of the main reasons behind the “great resignation” and “quiet quitting.” Once again those corporate routines and rituals for recognising the work of all, wherever they are located are vital.
5. 24/7 availability
One of the biggest downsides of remote working is requiring people to be on call and available to respond 24/7. Respecting people’s boundaries on availability is paramount and overstepping those limits can lead to stress, anxiety, and ultimately burnout.
6. Inflexible Communication
We all have different communication preferences and organisations which don’t try and cater to a person’s individual needs risk creating a negative environment. This can apply to neurodiverse employees or those from different cultural backgrounds.
One dyslexic contact complained about his boss flooding his Slack inbox with 200 messages a day. He felt completely overwhelmed before he agreed to a consolidated video message on Loom every two days.
6. Online bullying
Despite there being a shift to remote working online sexism and harassment has increased. People seemed to think that distance would solve the problem, but what it actually did was move it to another place.
Research from Project Include a non-profit in the tech space found that:
- 25% of respondents said they experienced an increase in gender-based harassment during the pandemic,
- 10% said the same of hostility related to their race or ethnicity,
- 23% of those 50 years and older reported a jump in age-related abuse.
This harassment can be carried out on video calls, via email, slack, and the company intranet as well as other social media platforms.
To avoid this organisations need to design specific protocols
- The same rules apply in the office and at home
- Create a reporting and facilitation policy for any grievances
- Spell out guidelines for video meetings around dress code, space, eating, smoking and camera policy
- Allowing a blurred background to avoid background bias
- Monitor chat for any inappropriate interaction
Take a look at our How to deal with sexism and harassment in the workplace program
7. Micro-management and monitoring
Organisations that are not based on trust are asking employees working remotely to leave their cameras on all day so they can monitor their presence. Additionally, they are also checking keystroke movements and the use of a mouse. This type of digital supervision has huge downsides.
Research led by Baylor University suggests that monitoring software led to higher levels of employee tension, decreased job satisfaction, and lower levels of staff retention.
Building an inclusive and healthy workplace culture allows easy and immediate communication between managers and their reports. Physical workplaces allow managers to feel in control. Training for all managers is paramount to allow remote working to flourish and be effective. All research suggests that this skill is something that women leaders are mastering so it is male bosses who need to upskill as soon as possible.