HR Management & Compliance

Toxic Workplaces in the Remote Office

For many, one of the bright spots of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the ability to work from home for the last year. In addition to the greater flexibility and shorter commute, many employees hoped for some relief from toxic workplaces.

toxic employee

Workplace Toxicity Follows Employees Home

Unfortunately, and surprisingly, many victims of a toxic workplace culture found that elements of that toxicity followed them home. For some, things seemed even worse somehow than what they’d experienced in the office.

“Before the pandemic, these toxic behaviors would take place in person, during meetings, presentations or casual interactions. Now, they occur over calls and in messages,” writes Hannah Hickok in an article for BBC Worklife. “And although you might assume distance would reduce some of these tensions, experts say being away from the office is more likely to do the opposite.”

These experts include Manuela Priesemuth, an associate professor in the management and operations department at Villanova University who has researched abusive managers and toxic workplaces and was interviewed for Hickok’s article. “Toxic cultures persist in remote settings, such that we see similar hostility over Zoom chats or email,” she says. “Distance or anonymity can enhance negative behaviors—it’s sometimes easier to send a rude or threatening message than say it in person.” In addition, stress stemming from the chaos, anxiety, and loss associated with the COVID-19 pandemic can shorten already short fuses for many.

Helping Employees Address Toxicity

If toxic behaviors can be as pervasive, or even more pervasive, in the remote workplace as they are in the physical office, employees need strategies and tools to cope with them, and managers and organizations need to identify and address them. Something as simple as an anonymous reporting line can make a huge impact, but eliminating that toxic culture is a much more difficult and long-term endeavor. Most experts, including Priesemuth, argue that this change has to start at the top, with executives and managers.

It might seem like remote work would offer a much-needed reprieve for employees struggling with toxic work environments, but the same tools that allow for effective virtual collaboration and communication also allow a toxic culture to follow staff home. Companies need to remain vigilant in combating toxic culture, a primary factor in low employee morale and the myriad problems that stem from it.