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Remote workers still victims of harassment and bullying

Even though 2020 has seen a dramatic increase in the number of employees working from home there have still been an unacceptable number of cases where people have been harassed or bullied.

Firms have struggled to supply the correct hardware and software for staff to stay productive at home, while compliance departments have found themselves under pressure in the implementation of policies to regulate the remote workforce.

The necessary steps taken by managers to assist people who can no longer work in the same rooms have been critical to the recent challenges that many firms face.

Of all the challenges, one that may be less obvious is to ensure that remote working conditions do not lead to a less respectful environment.

Just because employees are in different physical environments, managers may be led to believe that office bullying and harassment are controlled effectively and thus present less concern. This false sense of security can mean that abuse is overlooked.

The truth of the matter is that it may be easier to bully or harass another colleague via a keyboard, instead of face to face.

Abusers may feel that they will get away with an abusive side when it is not within earshot of a manager or colleague.

Working in a home environment may also lead to a more casual workplace where employees let their guard down and speak more freely on email, messaging, and video platforms.

On leaving the office at the end of a workday, a victim may be able to place a physical distance between themselves and an abuser, while when working from home, there are no definite working arrangements about times. Remote working can then allow the abuser to enter the victim’s home and personal life.

One problem with remote working is that many employees feel that they can and should work longer hours and many people feel that they are never truly ‘off the clock.’ 

Although this added time at the desk shows up in an increase of productivity, it also gives employees less time away from ‘the office’ and less time to recharge and handle the stress of the day. Getting away is particularly important when it comes to anyone being the victim of harassment and bullying.

Before any work-from-home scheme is introduced, managers need to ensure than every employee fully comprehends that the firm has a zero-tolerance towards harassment and bullying.

The same ethics which are present in normal working conditions should be in remote workplaces.

Zero-tolerance policies should include:

  • Humiliation and threats made through email or messaging platforms
  • Excessive criticism of a colleague’s work
  • Racist, sexist, or other offensive material via emails or messages
  • Belittling colleagues while on a video call
  • Demeaning social media posts about other colleagues
  • Rumour spreading
  • Repeated requests for dates and other connections with other colleagues

There should also in place to prevent harassment and bullying a reporting channel for victims and whistle-blowers, allowing them to report any experience and abusive behaviour towards them.

These reporting channels should be free from scepticism with all complaints taken seriously.

One recommendation for a handling procedure is to have a dedicated person for the position. This person should be responsible for setting deadlines as to when complaints will be heard and resolved. They will report back to the employee with the outcome.

It is essential-if the procedure is to work well- that investigations be made in a timely manner so as not to make the person feel as if they are being victimised.

Managers may also want to change their own management style as remote employees often feel isolated from their teams. Maintaining regular one-on-one contact will alleviate any concerns and give an employee a chance to speak up if they are harassed.

One final point which managers should guard against is for employees to work for longer than set out. This is important to prevent burnout and, in the case of abuse, will give the victim the time to disconnect.

When firms encourage their employees to finish work at the appointed time and to take time for themselves they foster an environment that shows they are concerned for staff well-being.

Fostering a culture in which remote workers understand and appreciate why they are valued will go a long way to ensuring that any employee who is the subject of bullying or harassment can confidently discuss the issue and achieve a satisfactory outcome.

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