Last week I received a frantic call from one of my former colleagues. A number of discussions were happening that affected his product, but he was discovering about decisions made, after they were final. Some of his peers were part of the discussions but he had no clue. His peers told him that these conversations happened with their common boss over impromptu calls and the decisions just “evolved” in the discussion. My colleague tried to talk to his boss about this. But his boss told him that he was over reacting and that this was just some side effect of “remote working”. He felt isolated and excluded at work and had decided to leave.
I knew that my former colleague was mature and not one to take offense at minor issues. He was also not someone to make “knee-jerk” decisions regarding his career. It was clear that he had become a victim of “invisible” toxicity that is a “silent killer” of motivation, engagement and productivity of so many workplaces.
Many of us had hoped that remote work would “reset” the culture of office politics. That the new workplace would create a level playing field, inclusion and flexibility.
The unfortunate reality is that remote work has magnified toxicity in the workplace. A workplace or manager who was already toxic now has a free rein to perpetuate this in a remote scenario. It’s harder to prove harassment, exclusion and abuse when there are no “witnesses” or processes to support your concerns.
Exclusion is a particularly difficult form of harassment to prove. It is also the easiest one to misuse in a remote work scenario.
As the world embraces remote work, we have an opportunity to invent ways and means of creating inclusive workplaces that support people to be their best.
As organizations, it’s important more than ever before for us to
- acknowledge that exclusion is a highly prevalent form of harassment in organizations
- educate leaders and managers on being inclusive, especially in a remote work context
- create a “safe space” for employees to report the issue and processes to resolve it
- ensure that leadership style is a key determinant of hiring, reward and exit
As we adapt to the new world of work, it’s time to re-think how we can build and sustain a better culture than what we had when all this started.