Bullying and microaggressions in the virtual world

There are so many issues organisations need to address as we move from the COVID crisis to adaptation and then legacy phases, that some fundamental topics have probably been overlooked. Providing clear guidelines to employees on how to behave in the new remote-working reality is probably one of them.

Videoconferencing is new to most of us and it’s littered with organisational risks. Since it looks set to remain a part of how we work for some time, we need to take action now to limit the risks and ensure our virtual meetings function as safely and effectively as we hope our real ones do. Here are the steps we think you should take.

Empathy, guidelines and support

  1. Begin by highlighting to everyone that we’re all finding our way in this new world. You could do this by sharing some of the accidental faux pas people have made: people talking animatedly while on mute, kids wandering in and demanding snacks, people wrapped in towels darting past in the background – we’ve all been there and we can all empathise with these embarrassing moments.
  2. You can then build on this empathy with clear statements from the top about how challenging this situation is. Make it clear that the organisation trusts its people to be doing everything they can to deliver. This will provide the foundation for a culture of trust where managers check-up less often, where the focus is on goals, outputs and outcomes rather than specific activity, and where micro-managing gives way to productive but flexible working.
  3. Alongside this cultural element, your people also need clear guidelines on acceptable behaviour in videoconferences. These vary by organisation but typical ones we have seen include guidance on swearing, talking over each other, commenting on people’s backgrounds, outfits, or appearance unless invited, and not taking offence at the inevitable delays in people responding.
  4. Then finally, it’s vital to keep lines of complaint open. Harassment, discrimination and aggression can still take place online. You need to be aware and accept that it may take different forms in the virtual world and be ready to address it whenever and wherever it occurs.

Relearning meetings

This is a profound shift in the way we work. We are all having to relearn the fundamental skill of how to behave in meetings that we all learnt over the first few weeks and months in the world of work. Back then we learnt it subconsciously and gradually.

Today, we all have to adapt more rapidly, and there is much organisations can do to help. By providing the right culture, guidelines and support they can ensure a safe and productive environment for all of their employees, both now and in the future.