Building a Safe Virtual Workplace Should Be Employers’ Priority

Woman talking on a video conference with her coworkers

As employers work hard to manage successful organizations during the pandemic, protecting employees from workplace misconduct and creating safe spaces is a critical part of that equation. According to Bloomberg columnist Elisa Martinuzzi, anyone hoping that a shift to remote work would help to decrease misconduct was in for a rude awakening.

In fact, our virtual world may have actually fueled misconduct. Without bystanders present,  employees may feel even more emboldened to harass colleagues or make sexual and racial comments during virtual meetings. According to HR Dive, the informal nature of working from home can make it easier for employees to slip into inappropriate behaviors.

Worse still, virtual platforms bring harassment and abuse directly into an employee’s home, which can make the misconduct feel even more invasive and all-consuming.  Virtual platforms also enable coworkers or Zoom bombers from outside the company to display graphic violent or sexual content on their screens, making employees especially vulnerable to dehumanizing imagery.

However, some employees – such as online customer service agents or call-center workers – have long relied on virtual platforms for their work. Their experiences with many types of abuse, often from customers, provides a window into the challenge now facing the broader workforce. The problem of virtual abuse is so pervasive among this employee base that JPMorgan recently revamped its policies to include a procedure for handling racism directed at workers in their call centers, and Bloomberg reported in June that the bank has cut ties with four clients who were racially abusive to such employees.

JPMorgan’s decision is a good example of developing policies that lead to real action. According to experts interviewed in HR Dive and The Wall Street Journal, employers can take a number of steps to prevent and respond to inappropriate behavior in the virtual workplace:

Make the rules of the road clear. While companies might think that their general policies on workplace behavior are sufficient, revising them to specifically address remote work can help employees avoid potential pitfalls. As discussed above, video conferencing can leave employees vulnerable to disturbing content from hackers if precautionary measures aren’t taken to secure private meetings. Additionally, messaging services such as Slack can lead to more informal conversations between colleagues and can enable bullying behavior. Providing guidance on the safest possible settings for virtual platforms, as well as the appropriate ways to engage with coworkers, can help prevent remote misconduct from happening in the first place.

Facilitate communication with management. Remote working can reduce contact between employees, their managers, and HR representatives, making it more difficult for employees to report misconduct. Creating a closely monitored chat room or virtual reporting system through which employees can easily connect with managers or HR can reduce barriers to reporting.

Respond to virtual misconduct swiftly. The best way to prevent virtual misconduct is to demonstrate that it will be dealt with just as quickly and seriously as misconduct that takes place in a physical workplace. The best response meets the needs of the person who reported misconduct while also providing accountability and education for the person who acted inappropriately. Though HR professionals are juggling many concerns during the pandemic, prioritizing their response to misconduct reports will go a long way toward building a healthier remote working culture.

RALIANCE hopes the steps listed above will help employers navigate this challenging and complex virtual environment, which successfully functions only when every employee feels safe from abuse of any kind.

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