How Cyberbullying Can Devastate Your Dispersed Group

Cyberbullying has become a pervasive form of harassment in the digital realm. Gone are the days of when a school maintenance worker could scare away a bully with a mere pruning of a Bonsai tree. Once inside, the victim could find a safe haven. Unfortunately, the range of those affected by a bully has greatly increased. It is not only children who are in peril, however; adults are also at risk from cyberbullying.

Tracing back to the dawn of human cooperation in the workplace, the issue of bullying in the workplace has been a longstanding problem. Unfortunately, the emergence of cyberbullying has exacerbated the issue, with the potential for people to be hostile towards each other growing as technology advances. According to the definition, cyberbullying is the use of modern communication tools such as emails, texts, and web-postings to intimidate or harass individuals.

It is increasingly common in the professional environment to encounter an insidious form of bullying which is cause for concern. Dan Raisbeck, co-founder of the Cybersmile Foundation, has rightly remarked that “adult cyberbullying in the workplace can be a subtle form of mistreatment, however it can be just as damaging to the targeted individual in terms of their feelings of humiliation, belittlement and distress.” Indeed, research undertaken by the Universities of Sheffield and Nottingham found that eight out of ten workers reported having been subjected to cyberbullying in the form of feeling “humiliated”, “ignored” or “gossiped about” during an online activity.

It appears that there is a possibility that remote employees could be vulnerable to bullying, even though the likelihood of this may be considered low. It is important to understand the various forms of bullying, particularly those that take place online, in order to be aware of the potential consequences of working remotely. Cyberbullying must be taken seriously, and it is essential to consider how it may affect those working away from the office.

The Impact of Cyberbullying on Isolated Work Settings

Samuel Farley, an author from the University of Sheffield, argues in his thesis that Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is the only way that virtual employees can experience and enact bullying, leading to the emergence of a novel form of workplace bullying: cyberbullying. Farley states that the most worrying aspect of this phenomenon is that anyone, regardless of their geographical location, can be affected by it. Respondents reported being persistently pursued, as well as having negative messages sent to them outside of work hours, making them feel confined via the use of technology.

Victims of cyberbullying in India’s information technology industry have described their experiences as “a never-ending nightmare, extending even into the weekends and affecting their home lives”.

The use of ICT facilitates distant work. However, it leaves your remote employees vulnerable to cyber attacks.

Sharon Koifman, the founder and current Chief Executive Officer of the company, has expressed in the article, The Making of your Company’s Remote Culture, that it is essential to expect the same output from remote personnel as you would from on-site colleagues. It is also important to consider the unique requirements and difficulties that remote workers face in comparison to local employees. As remote workers are frequently online, they are not exposed to the same office politics and social situations as other employees, however, they may still be susceptible to cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying can have a destructive psychological impact on its victims, significantly affecting their ability to perform in the workplace. As an employer, it is essential to take steps to ensure that those in your charge are supported and protected. There are various measures that can be taken to help those who are the victims of cyberbullying, such as providing a safe working environment and offering appropriate support and resources. Additionally, it is important to ensure that any instances of cyberbullying that occur in the workplace are dealt with swiftly and appropriately. In this way, employers can ensure that their employees are shielded from the damaging effects of cyberbullying and can continue to work productively without fear or intimidation.

Cyberbullying Telltales

Maintaining an effective working relationship with employees who are located a thousand miles away can be a daunting task, however it is certainly achievable. Establishing a strong framework of communication is paramount in order to break down these barriers and build relationships with your remote staff, especially during the early stages when you are still getting to know them through distant conversations. It is thus essential to put in the necessary effort to ensure that these lines of communication remain strong.

As you get to know your team better, keep an eye out for these warning signals of trouble.

  • It is important to be aware that staff members may experience a shift in their level of communication with one another due to disconnection from internal business messaging systems. This could be particularly evident on group messaging tools such as Slack, so it is prudent to keep an eye on any changes that might occur.
  • It is important to be mindful of staff members who appear to no longer have the same level of enthusiasm for their role as they previously did. Although this may not be necessarily indicative of cyberbullying, it should not be overlooked.
  • Emotional distress. If a worker seems more depressed or agitated than usual during video calls, this might be the result of cyberbullying.

Once an individual has achieved their goal, there is a higher risk of cyberbullying. Even if attempts are made to avoid it, remote workers may still be vulnerable to such threats when they are required to interact with other colleagues. Introductions can take place in both virtual (such as through video chat) and physical (in-person) environments (e.g. at a company retreat). Whilst it could make remote staff feel more part of the team to meet their peers in person, this also increases the chances of them facing cyberbullying.

Keeping Your Distant Group Safe

It is true that the likelihood of cyberbullying occurring amongst remote workers is low, however, it is not something that should be disregarded. To ensure the safety of remote employees, it is essential for companies to implement a ‘no cyberbullying’ policy and address any issues that may arise before they become a major problem. Kemp Little, a legal practise specialising in digital media and technology, has noted that the law is still catching up in this area, however, it is still possible for companies to impose disciplinary action and even terminate employees, should they be found to be engaging in cyberbullying in their personal time.

It is certainly true that TheConversation states that companies should educate their employees, both those based locally and those in remote locations, on the issue of cyberbullying and how to raise a complaint. It is essential that employers take such matters seriously and provide the necessary support to the victim when they become aware of the incident.

Dr. Coyne raised an alarming trend from the Sheffield/Nottingham inquiry into cyberbullying, which concluded that fewer witnesses are affected by this issue. This could be due to the lack of a personal connection caused by the anonymity of the internet, leading to witnesses feeling less empathy towards victims, and thus less likely to take action.

As employers, it is important to create an environment where remote workers are encouraged to report any incidents of cyberbullying they may experience or witness. A team-oriented mindset would be highly beneficial, as this would allow employees to rally together in the event of a crisis. In order to create the ideal dynamic for remote staff, employers should consider the use of a business cadence. It is imperative that both victims and witnesses must feel safe and comfortable in coming forward to their employer, particularly if they are in fear of being subjected to cyberbullying. To ensure effective prevention of such incidents, open communication must be embraced, and questions should be welcomed.

In order to prevent further instances of cyberbullying, employers must ensure that they do not expect remote workers to be available at all times. This is something that has previously been a factor in the cyberbullying which was experienced in Indian IT. As stated, “workers are expected to be accessible for and reachable concerning work at all times, providing for unfettered and illimitable exposure to cyberbullying.” To avoid this situation, employers should establish a routine to which telecommuters should adhere. Furthermore, it is essential that it is made clear that employees are not expected to be contactable outside of their normal business hours.

At Works, we understand that preventing cyberbullying can be a difficult task. However, we are dedicated to ensuring you have the resources necessary to keep your team safe. We have helped hundreds of organisations make the switch to remote working, so if you are ready to join them, then please do not hesitate to get in touch.

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