Bullying has a new form, and it’s taken root in the cyber community. Long gone are the days when the high school bullies could be scared away by a Bonsai-trimming maintenance man. The victim could breathe easy once they’ve reached the safety of their doorway. Nowadays a bully’s reach is much farther. And it’s not just the world’s youth who are at risk.
Workplace bullying has had a spot in history for as long as people have worked together. Yet it has increased tenfold with the creation of cyberbullying. As technology advances more and more, so does the chance for humankind to be, to put it frank, mean to each other. Cyberbullying is “using modern communications technology such as e-mails, texts or web-postings to abuse people.”
Unfortunately, it has become more prevalent in the workforce than even conventional bullying. Cybersmile Foundation co-founder Dan Raisbeck pointed out that “Adult cyberbullying in the workplace can be more subtle. But is equally distressing. The outcomes are often the same – to humiliate, undermine and distress the person being targeted.” In a survey conducted by the University of Sheffield and the Nottingham University, 8 out of 10 employees polled reported feeling like they were cyberbullied. The stipulation being if they ever felt “humiliated”, “ignored”, or “gossiped about” at any point online.
So if it can happen so readily in an in-office environment, does that mean remote workers could be at risk? While the chance might be smaller, the answer is yes. Bullying can take many forms. Especially when dealing with cyberbullying. It’s crucial to understand cyberbullying. And how it might affect your remote team.
Cyberbullying Affecting Remote Placement
The University of Sheffield, thesis author Samuel Farley writes that “Without being physically collocated with colleagues the only way that virtual workers can experience and enact bullying is through ICTs (Information and Communication Technology). This has prompted the existence of cyberbullying, a new form of workplace bullying.” He goes on to report that the most disturbing aspect of cyberbullying has been its ability to reach anyone anywhere. “Respondents reported feeling pursued as they were relentlessly. Sent negative technology-mediated messages outside of working hours, which made them feel trapped.”
In a study done of an Indian IT sector plagued by cyberbullying, victims described it as “a nightmare that never ends…even at home, on weekends…always.”
ICT is advantageous for remote work. But it also opens up the door for your remote workers to be attacked in the cyber universe.
In our article, The Making of your Company’s Remote Culture, founder, and CEO Sharon Koifman points out that “You should expect from your remote employees the same things you expect from your on-site staff. And by the same token, you should understand that their needs and challenges differ from those of a local employee.” Being 100% remote puts your employees in cyberspace almost constantly. While they’re lucky enough to avoid the water cooler cliques, they may not be able to avoid cyberbullying.
The effects of cyberbullying cause mental anguish in the victim. This, in turn, affects job performance. So what can you as the employer do to help?
Signs of Cyberbullying
It can be a difficult task to watch out for signs of distress in employees when you’re 1,000 miles away. But not impossible. It’s important to have already established a good rapport with your remote employees. If you are still getting to know them via remote communications, it may be harder. That’s why we encourage you to build good communication bridges. For a better idea on how to develop good communication with distant workers, check out our article How to Communicate Better With Your Remote Team.
Once you’re more familiar with how your team operates, you can look for the following signs of distress in each team member.
- Withdrawn on company communication networks. On apps such as Slack that allow group chats, look for previously chatty employees being more detached.
- Loss of Drive: Be aware of employees who no longer show the energy and work ethic they used to. While it may not mean they are being cyberbullied, it is still a symptom to consider.
- Distressed emotions. During video chats, if you notice an employee is more downtrodden or upset, it could be caused by cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying usually takes place after people meet. In this case, remote workers are still at risk since meeting team members is often part of the job. Introductions can take place either online (such as in a group video chat) or in-person (for example a company retreat). While having remote workers meet the staff is an excellent way for everyone to feel a part of the team, be aware it may introduce cyberbullying.
Protecting Your Remote Team
The chances of your remote worker being cyberbullied within your company are not particularly high. But not impossible. Protect remote workers by having a “no cyberbullying” policy in place. Before it becomes a problem. According to Kemp Little, a law firm that specializes in digital media and technology, “The law is still catching up in this area. But it is possible for employers to discipline employees. And even fire them for their behavior and activities outside of work.”
TheConversation concurs. Besides having a policy in place, workplaces should train employees (both in-house and remote) on what cyberbullying looks like. And when it is brought to an employer’s attention to take it seriously and be supportive of the victim.
In the Sheffield/Nottingham study, Dr. Coyne reported on a disturbing trend. The investigation revealed when it comes to cyberbullying. “Witnesses are much less affected. This might be because of the remote nature of cyberspace — perhaps people empathize less with the victims. This could affect the witness’s reaction to the bullying and potentially whether to report it or otherwise intervene.”
Employers should encourage remote employees to come forward if they witness any form of cyberbullying. Creating a “team” attitude will help. Remote workers will feel more willing to help a teammate in distress. For further instruction on how to form the perfect dynamic for your remote workers, refer to How to Use a Business Cadence in Managing a Remote WorkForce. It’s essential that both the victim and witnesses feel like they can approach their employer. Especially if they feel like there’s a risk of cyberbullying. An open-door policy and excellent communication are critical for prevention.
Finally, to help prevent cyberbullying employees should not require remote workers to be available 24/7. Part of the problem that caused the Indian IT Cyberbullying was this very thing. “…employees are expected to be available for and can be reached about work all the time, allowing for unrestricted and illimitable exposure to cyberbullying.” Create a remote schedule that workers can adhere to. Make sure they know they are not expected to be available during non-working hours.
Prevention of cyberbullying is difficult. Readiness will give you the edge you need to keep your team safe. At DistantJob we’re here to help you reach that goal. If you’re ready to join the thousands of companies who have already gone remote, contact us here today.