The realm of digital communication has given rise to a concerning trend of cyberbullying, which has become pervasive in recent years. It is no longer enough to simply seek refuge in a secure physical location or to rely on well-meaning staff to resolve the matter, as the bully can continue their harassment online. This harmful behaviour is not limited to children; rather, adults are just as susceptible to being targeted by cyberbullies.
Since the advent of the modern workforce, bullying has been an ongoing issue that has plagued workplaces. However, the introduction of digital communication has escalated the issue to new heights. With the rise of cyberbullying, individuals have more avenues to display hostile behaviours toward others. Cyberbullying refers to the use of various modern communication platforms – such as emails, text messages, and web posts – in order to intimidate or harass individuals, as per its definition.
A concerning trend that is becoming increasingly common in the professional setting is the covert, yet harmful, practice of workplace cyberbullying. According to Dan Raisbeck, a co-founder of the Cybersmile Foundation, adult cyberbullying is a subtle yet pernicious type of mistreatment that can cause a significant amount of humiliation, belittlement, and distress for the targeted individual. Research conducted by the Universities of Sheffield and Nottingham supported this notion, reporting that eight out of ten workers have encountered some form of cyberbullying that resulted in feelings of being “humiliated,” “ignored” or “gossiped about” during online activities.
While it may seem unlikely, remote employees can still be vulnerable to workplace bullying, including cyberbullying. It is crucial to have an understanding of different forms of bullying, especially those that occur online, in order to recognize the potential risks of working remotely from the office. Cyberbullying is a serious issue that must be handled with care, and employers must consider how it may affect those who work remotely, as it can have damaging consequences for individuals.
The Effect of Cyberbullying on Isolated Work Environments
Samuel Farley, a University of Sheffield author, believes that Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is the primary avenue in which remote workers are exposed to and can engage in workplace bullying, leading to the emergence of cyberbullying as a new form of harassment. According to Farley, the most concerning aspect of this issue is that it can affect anyone regardless of their location. Respondents have reported feeling persistently pursued and receiving negative messages during non-work hours, which has caused them to feel trapped by the use of technology.
Individuals who have suffered from cyberbullying within the Indian information technology sector have expressed that their experiences have been a “never-ending nightmare,” seeping into their personal lives even during weekends and causing undue stress and burden.
The use of ICT enables remote work, but it also leaves remote employees open to cyber threats and attacks.
In the article, “The Making of Your Company’s Remote Culture,” Works’ founder and current CEO, Sharon Koifman, emphasizes the importance of holding remote employees to the same standards as on-site colleagues, while also acknowledging the distinct challenges and needs that remote workers face. While remote workers are not exposed to the same office politics and social situations as traditional employees, they remain vulnerable to cyberbullying due to their frequent online presence.
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The psychological toll of cyberbullying can have a detrimental effect on victims, ultimately affecting their ability to perform their job duties. As an employer, it is crucial to take proactive steps to safeguard your employees and provide them with the necessary support to overcome such challenges. There are several measures that can be implemented that help victims of cyberbullying, such as establishing a secure work environment and offering appropriate resources and assistance. It’s important that any incidents of cyberbullying in the workplace are addressed swiftly and appropriately. Employers who prioritize the well-being of their staff and take a strong stance against cyberbullying can ensure that their employees can perform without fear or intimidation.
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Signs of Cyberbullying
Maintaining a productive and positive working relationship with employees thousands of miles away may seem challenging, but it is an attainable goal. Building a robust communication framework is crucial to eliminate barriers and establish rapport with your remote workforce, particularly during the initial stages of the relationship when communication occurs virtually. Therefore, it is necessary to invest in efforts that ensure effective communication is established and maintained.
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As you become more familiar with your team, be mindful of these signs that may indicate potential issues or concerns.
- It’s essential to recognize that team members may experience diminished communication due to the absence of internal business communication platforms. This can be especially noticeable in group messaging tools such as Slack, so it’s important to monitor any changes that may arise.
- It’s crucial to be attentive to employees who seem to have lost their previous levels of engagement and enthusiasm towards their job role. While this may not necessarily imply cyberbullying, it’s important not to dismiss such changes in behaviour.
- Emotional distress. If a remote worker appears more despondent, irritable, or troubled than usual during video calls, it could be a consequence of cyberbullying.
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Once an individual accomplishes their objectives, the probability of facing cyberbullying rises. Despite taking precautions, remote workers may still be vulnerable to such threats when they interact with other colleagues. Introductions can take place both virtually (through video chat) and physically (in-person) environments, such as at company retreats. While meeting peers in person may make remote staff members feel more connected to the team, this also increases their exposure to possible cyberbullying.
Ensuring the Safety of Your Remote Team
While the risk of cyberbullying among remote workers may be low, it shouldn’t be overlooked. For the safety and welfare of remote employees, companies must establish a ‘no cyberbullying’ policy and address any concerns before they escalate. Despite the fact that cyberbullying law is still catching up, companies can still take disciplinary actions and even terminate employment if employees engage in such behaviour during their personal time. Kemp Little, a legal practice specializing in digital media and technology, has noted this situation.
According to TheConversation, educating both remote and local employees about cyberbullying and how to report such incidents is crucial for companies to address this issue. It is imperative that employers take such matters seriously and provide victims with the necessary support once they become aware of any cyberbullying incidents.
Dr. Coyne highlighted a distressing trend stemming from the Sheffield/Nottingham investigation into cyberbullying, indicating that fewer witnesses are impacted by this problem. The anonymity of the internet could result in witnesses feeling less connected to victims and lacking empathy, ultimately reducing their willingness to take action.
As employers, it’s crucial to cultivate an environment that encourages remote workers to report any instances of cyberbullying they encounter or witness. An approach that promotes teamwork would be highly beneficial, allowing employees to unite in times of crisis. Employers can consider implementing a business cadence to create an ideal dynamic for remote staff. It’s imperative that victims and witnesses feel safe and at ease in approaching their employer, especially if they fear being subjected to cyberbullying. Open communication must be embraced to effectively prevent such incidents, and questions should be encouraged.
Employers must not expect remote workers to be available all the time as this has been a contributing factor in cyberbullying incidents, such as those experienced in Indian IT. Workers being constantly accessible for work and reachable at all times can result in unrestricted and limitless exposure to cyberbullying. To avoid such situations, employers must establish a set routine for telecommuters to follow, and it must be explicitly stated that employees are not expected to be available after their regular business hours.
At Works, we understand that preventing cyberbullying may present challenges, but we are committed to providing you with the necessary resources to keep your team safe. We have assisted numerous organizations in transitioning to remote work, and if you are ready to take the leap, do not hesitate to contact us. We also have a helpful guide on tools for remote video conferences that you might find useful.