Company Culture

Online Workplaces Can Be Toxic: What to Look Out For and How to Avoid It

Jeffrey Fermin
Jeffrey Fermin
April 7, 2022
8 min read
Online Workplaces Can Be Toxic: What to Look Out For and How to Avoid It

Working remotely has become increasingly popular in recent years, even before the pandemic, companies were making the move to either go hybrid, if not fully remote. Not all remote work environments are created equal — while some remote workplaces are healthy and supportive, others can be toxic and damaging.

If you're thinking about taking a remote job, it's important to be aware of the signs of a toxic workplace. If you're already working at a workplace that has embraced remote or hybrid working, we found some signs that might indicate that it could be a toxic remote environment.

A shift is coming — hybrid or remote company culture is here to stay.

According to a study by Upwork; 1 in 4 Americans over 26% of the American workforce will be working remotely through 2021. They also estimate that 22% of the workforce (36.2 Million Americans) will work remotely by 2025. Another study by PWC, found that the shift to remote work has been an overwhelming success; as 83% of employers believe that going remote has been great for their company.

It's evident that remote or hybrid employees feel empowered. As you probably know in the remote workplace, you are your own boss. This can be a great thing, but it can also lead to problems if you're not good at managing your time and work. More importantly, if you don't know how to actively engage and work with your peers.

Unfortunately, the ugly side of remote work is that the lack of interactions with peers can lead to loneliness and depression — this becomes even more prevalent when it's a toxic culture. If you're already working at a workplace that has embraced remote or hybrid working, we found some signs that might indicate that it could be a toxic remote environment:

Signs That You Are in a Toxic Remote Workplace:

A remote workplace can be toxic when it is damaging to an individual's physical or emotional health. The remote aspect of the work means that the employee is often physically isolated from their co-workers and managers, which can make it difficult to identify and report issues.

With that said, here are some of the most common signs of remote toxic work environments:

Feeling like you can't speak up or share your ideas

In a healthy remote work environment, there should be regular communication among employees and managers. If you feel like you can't share your ideas or speak up about problems, this could be a clear indicator of a bad remote environment. Fortunately, this is an easy problem to fix if it's recognized early on.

Especially if you're using things like employee feedback management tools to figure out what are some ways to improve communication patterns between managers and employees.

Not feeling valued or appreciated

One of the most common signs of a toxic remote work environment is employees not feeling valued or appreciated — this can often be called "disengagement".

This can manifest itself in a number of ways, such as feeling like your work is not important or that you're not being given the same opportunities as other employees.

If you feel this way, it's important to talk to your manager about it. It's also important to document these feelings so you have evidence if things escalate.

Being micromanaged or not given enough autonomy

In a healthy remote work environment, employees should be given enough autonomy to manage their own work. If you're feeling micromanaged or not trusted to do your job, this is a result of bad management — and the fact that the feeling of being micromanaged is prevalent in a remote setting makes it even more telling.

Should note that micromanagement leads to feelings of frustration and powerlessness, which can further damage your physical or emotional health.

Seeing people being mistreated and not speaking up

In any work environment, it's important to have a code of ethics that employees can refer to when they see someone being mistreated.

Sadly, in many remote toxic work environments, this doesn't happen. This can lead to employees feeling like they can't speak up about the wrong things that are happening in the company.

If you're a global company that has a lot of remote, and globally=dispersed employees, you'd benefit from listening to this chat with Merary Soto-Saunders of CVC Credit Partners, where she talked about developing and leading a global company:

If you're seeing something that makes you uncomfortable, it's important to speak up. At AllVoices, we specialize in providing an anonymous workplace reporting tool for employees being mistreated and for businesses to catch any bad actors; we ensure that businesses can remain operating at a high level and mitigate any risks.

A lack of trust and transparency among team members

This often manifests itself as employees being unwilling to share information with one another or working on different projects without talking to each other.

Transparency is key in any workplace, but it's especially important in a remote one, as there has to be clear communication between peers and management about what's going on. Trust is another massive component, and establishing it while working in a remote or hybrid setting is very tough — the best thing to do is probably to ensure that you have some kind of virtual team bonding or even casual meetings to ensure that there's open communication among people.

Feeling isolated or alone in your work environment

This is probably one of the most common signs of a remote toxic work environment.

In a healthy remote team, employees should feel like they're part of a team and that they can reach out to their co-workers for help. If you're feeling isolated or alone in your work environment, this could be a sign that the company is not doing a good job at creating a sense of community.

The best way to combat this is to find online communities or forums related to your work field so you can discuss issues with other people who are going through the same thing, with the same abilities. Alternatively, you can also try reaching out to co-workers more often, even if it's just to chat about things unrelated to work.

Your boss assumes that you are available to work 24/7

It's ok if your boss hits you on the weekend even though you may lack any concrete plan to follow. However, when it's consistent it is a clear sign that your boss does not respect your personal time and boundaries.

In a remote setting, it's even more important for bosses to be cognizant of the fact that their employees are working from home and may have different hours.

If you're feeling like your boss is always on your case or expecting too much from you, talk to them about it. Let them know that you need some downtime and explain why. If they don't listen or continue to schedule work during times when you're unavailable, it might be time to see if there is a way to voice your concern.

Remote coworkers are cyberbullying

Cyberbullying can take many different forms, but the most common is when someone is harassed or made fun of through digital channels like email, instant messaging (Slack, Microsoft Teams, or other tools), or even on social media.

This type of behavior often targets people who are already vulnerable and can have a significant impact on their mental health.

If you are dealing with online bullying from remote coworkers contact AllVoices

If you're being cyberbullied by your remote coworkers, it's important to document everything that's happening and try to find allies within your company. You can also use an anonymous reporting tool like AllVoices that deal with this kind of thing on a regular basis. It's worth adding that intense workplace gossip or cyberbullying shouldn't be tolerated.

You are subject to electronic monitoring

Many companies use electronic monitoring software or different apps to ensure workers are productive during work hours. And while this becomes a bit concerning, from an ethical standpoint, it doesn't necessarily guarantee productivity or creativity.

At the end of the day this is really telling of the leadership and how some poor management practices — of always needing to have an eye on your employees — have made it out into the digital world.

What should I do if my remote workplace becomes toxic?

If your hybrid or remote company is already heading toward a high level of toxicity, your best bet is to try to address the issue head-on. Talk to your co-workers, human resources, management, or anyone else who may be able to help.

You can also try reaching out to online resources or forums that deal with this type of thing. There are many people out there who have gone through the same thing and can offer you advice on how to handle the situation. Finally, always remember that you have the right to look for new employment if it's making you unhappy.

I'm the manager of a toxic remote workplace: how can I fix things up?

If you're the manager of a toxic workplace, and you've just started to realize it. At this moment you're being more reactive than proactive, so the first step should be to assess the situation. Try to figure out what's causing the toxicity and see if there are any ways to address it.

Using things like pulse surveys and whistleblower hotlines can be a great way to start finding out who are the bad actors in your workplace and start taking the right steps to support your team and improve your remote culture.

With that said, AllVoices provides pulse survey solutions and an anonymous hotline that can improve working relationships and help alleviate poor communication between staff and management. Improve your company's culture with our employee intelligence platform.

How to handle concerns like this in the future?

The best way to handle concerns like this in the future is by having an open dialogue with your employees from the get-go. This will help set the tone for how you expect them to behave and give them a better understanding of what's acceptable behavior in a remote workplace.

It's also important that you be transparent about any monitoring software or tools that are being used, and why. Employees should also be aware of the company's policies on cyberbullying and harassment.

If everyone understands the expectations and rules upfront, it will make for a much more positive work experience for everyone involved.

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