How to handle workplace bullying and harassment during the COVID-19 lockdown

There are plenty of benefits to remote working, but when it comes to the current pandemic situation, the time to iron out the wrinkles and ensure employees are fully supported isn’t always there. As you’d expect, countless employers are dealing with brand-new remote policies that have never been used before.

But one area where employees should always be supported in is the management, reduction and removal of bullying and harassment from their work environment. Whether they’re sat at a desk in the office or on the sofa at home, the same requirements ring true: employees should feel safe at work, and they shouldn’t be in a position where stressful circumstances are being made worse by the actions of their colleagues or leadership.

So, how can you identify and deal with bullying and harassment quickly and effectively in a remote working environment? While the methods may have changed, the toxicity of a harassment situation is still the same – and it’s a must to deal with these kinds of issues swiftly and effectively. Here are just a few of the ‘new’ kinds of bullying you need to keep an eye out for as a responsible employer.

Lack of inclusion and isolation

Jane works as an administrative assistant alongside a broader team in the company. John finds her annoying because she has to have her toddler with her on calls, and as such has decided to cut her out of all future meeting invites. He’s also chosen not to invite her to weekly team Zoom calls.

While it may be more difficult to forget to tell someone about a meeting in the office or fail to include someone in something that’s going on right under their noses, remote working is a whole different environment when it comes to the exclusion and isolation of employees. It’s all too easy for employees to target other staff members by refusing to communicate with them, failing to involve them in work-based required activities or simply leaving them out of opportunities for socialisation.

During an already isolating time, this kind of bullying can take its toll on excluded employees, and at the very least harm their work and mental health. This kind of bullying could also be considered highly discriminatory, particularly in the example provided above.

Cyberbullying through rumours and abuse

Melanie is disliked by Joan, and as such, Joan has spread a rumour that she’s sleeping with one of her managers. Joan and several others in the friendship group from work have a private chat, where they complain about Melanie. When Melanie attempts to email or communicate with anyone in the group, she’s told to ‘figure it out for herself’ or that she’s ‘sleeping her way to the top anyway’.

It may feel like cyberbullying is something relegated to tweens and teenagers, but online bullying between adults is more common than you might think. Typically, this kind of bullying can be anything from talking about another employee in private chats or even sharing photos through to actively abusing or displaying aggressive behaviour towards that individual. Hostile behaviour is nothing new for some workplaces, unfortunately. Still, a single toxic employee can quickly lead to the creation of an us vs them mentality, which is amplified in a digital environment.

Rumours are easy to spread and hard to investigate within instant messaging and email in comparison to within the walls of an office. While the above is an extreme example, these kinds of behaviours are insidious and can quickly spiral out of control, especially in the current kind of ‘bubble’ we’re living in.

Micromanagement and constant demands

Fred is currently working full time from home with his husband, Joe. They split time homeschooling their eight- and ten-year-olds, and as such can’t be at their laptops all day every day. Fred’s manager expects him to respond to emails within two minutes and complete more tasks than he would within a normal working day because she believes he should be in ‘work mode’ at all times since his laptop is there.

Alongside behaviour between same-level employees, it’s also important to watch out for the behaviour of management and leadership during enforced work from home periods. For some managers, micromanagement is their response to gaining control of a stressful situation. With many individuals forced to work in less than favourable circumstances, or even having to juggle childcare and work, these too-high standards and their manager’s constant need for ‘bums in seats’ at all times can lead to increased stress and feelings of harassment.

While managers often don’t consider this behaviour to be bullying, it can be under specific circumstances – and more now than ever before. It’s important to know that we aren’t currently operating under normal circumstances, and that simply being in your seat and answering emails doesn’t make you productive.

How can you handle bullying when working from home?

If any of the above sounds familiar, or you simply want to prevent issues before they occur, the best thing you can do is be vigilant and understanding. By understanding that we aren’t in a normal situation during COVID-19, and that employees simply can’t achieve exactly the same output they could in the workplace, you’re far better-placed to get a look at the bigger picture. Whether it’s sending out information about bullying, or helping managers to better support their employees, simply improving awareness is a good first step, as well as making clear what isn’t acceptable under any circumstances – even when working from home.

Read more about how you can effectively lead a remote team.

COVID-19 Guide – How to set up your home office

After the government instructed employees to work from home whenever possible, we are probably a confused bunch struggling with recreating a pleasant and productive working environment. Can you relate? Read our top tips below!

Get the right equipment

First and foremost, you need all the logistics of working remotely in place. Make sure you are stacked with the technology needed for being as productive as when you’re in the office. Additional screens, mouse, keyboard, headphones, notebook, post-its – whatever you typically use.

Don’t forget about connection! The ability to work from home successfully is often dependent on suitable Wi-Fi. Most likely, you will participate in virtual meetings with your team – so you don’t want to take the risk of missing out due to a frozen screen. Also consider the security of your connection – make sure your Virtual Private Network (VPN) is in place. If not, enquire with your IT department.

Finding the right space

With the current situation, many of us have been suddenly thrown into working remotely. This means we might not have an obvious home office or desk space. Therefore, you might find yourself having to improvise and set up a temporary work station. Your dining table or kitchen bar might be the natural choice to set up, though with this in mind – make sure you separate work time from free time! At the end of your work day, pack up your things and transform the space back to a dining place.

Another solution could be to simply move a small table or nightstand to a secluded space in your bedroom or living room. Add a chair – and voila! You have a temporary work station.

Manage distractions

Living by yourself? Great! Then you don’t have to worry about your household distracting you from work. But for many of us, reality looks a little different. Whether it’s your partner, children or house mates, it is important to make sure you’re able to distance yourself when “at work”.

A physical boundary such as closing the door behind you might do the trick, but there are other ways to signal “do not disturb” to the people around you. For example, communicate to your surrounding that plugged in headphones, or office attire, equals to “I am at work – pretend I’m not here!”.

Ergonomic Set-Up

Even though you might not consider this setup long term, you should still mind your ergonomic needs. You don’t want to catch a “tech neck” or another repetitive strain injury (just like you don’t want to catch the coronavirus, right?).

To make sure your posture is fine, both feet should be flat on the ground. When you sit up straight, your eyebrows should be levelled with the top of the computer screen. When in an L shape, your arms should not be angled upwards – either straight or slightly downwards. When you extend one arm horizontally, your fingertips should almost touch the middle of the screen. Your mouse if you have one, should be as close to you as possible.

Your knees should be just under your hips – if not, use a footrest. Now, you can get a fairly cheap one from Amazon, or you can just use something available in your house, such as a book. The most ideal scenario is to get an adjustable, ergonomic chair, though we realise this might be a bit over kill if you’re not intending to work from home in the future!

Be mindful of your posture – if you feel like your chin is poking upwards, you are probably sitting too low. Another thing worth mentioning is sufficient lighting – make sure there are no glare or disturbing reflections.

How do I stay motivated when working from home?

If you need tips in adjusting your mentality of working remotely, we have listed our 4 top tips on how to stay productive and motivated while working from home. Read it here!

10 Fun Things You Can Do In 30 Minutes (When You Are Locked Indoors)

As a result of COVID-19, and with an increased number of people now working from home, we want to share some fun things you can do to make sure you have the break you deserve, spend the time wisely and don’t get caught up with “working lunches”.

If working 9 – 5 is your thing, then you are probably used to a 30 minute break, so here is Goodwille’s list of “Fun things you can do in 30 minutes”, which doesn’t involve scrolling social media, watching television, or reading about the end of the world.

10 – Take Up Doodling

Whether you think you’re creative or not, everyone loves to doodle. You don’t have to be the next Picasso to put pen to paper, but if you are, then get out the pens, the paper, the apron, easel, the lot. Doodling, drawing, sketching or painting is a great way to switch off, and who knows, you might just find your hidden talent.

9 – Reorganise the Freezer

It might not sound fun, but nothing will make you happier than being able to open the freezer drawer smoothly. Pop a clip on the frozen peas, throw out any of the old stuff, and relax into your afternoon knowing that opening the freezer drawers will be smoother than a warm knife cutting through butter.

8 – Make Time For The People You Care About

Whether they live with you, or if you call them via Facetime, now is a perfect time to connect and make time to speak to your nearest and dearest, as the likelihood is, they also have time on their hands, and they are probably missing you. Take the time to reconnect with the people you’ve been meaning to speak to.   

7 – Read A Book

Get engrossed in something that isn’t the latest Netflix series and let the imagination run wild with a good book. Get a selection of the bestsellers delivered to your door (contactless delivery preferable), then throw yourself on the sofa, relax and find a book that you just can’t put down!

6 – Start Puzzling

Pick up a 500 piece puzzle, or if you have plenty of time, try a 1,000 piece one. I guarantee everyone will say ‘what have you bought that for’, but once you get started, they won’t be able to stay away. You’ll find them bringing you hot drinks unexpectedly, just so they can smugly slot in another piece! It’s a great way to bring everyone you live with together.

5 – Start Cooking Quick & Easy Meals

The internet is full of quick and easy meals, and it will give you chance to use up many things that are left over in the cupboards. If you’re used to grabbing sandwiches and a packet of crisps, now’s your chance to expand your horizons and enjoy something a little more, let’s say, exciting?

4 – Learn Something New

There has not been a better time to learn something new than now! Get online and buy whatever it is you’ve been thinking about learning. Whether it be an electric guitar, a digeridoo or learning a new language, you’ll have some spare time on your hands right now and for the foreseeable future. Kick back, relax and start teaching your brain something that you’ve always only dreamt about learning.  

3 – Pet Your Dog

Possibly the easiest one on the list, if you have a dog that is. But if you do, pick them up, tell him he’s a good boy, cuddle him, whisper in his ear and tell him how much you love working at home with him. Tickle his tummy, feed him treats, get him to do tricks, and tell him again how much you love him. Spend 5 minutes chasing him round the house and he will love you forever. Warning: This is possibly the easiest way to spend 30minutes. Keep track of time here!

2 – Exercise, or Take Up Yoga

Switching off is important when you’re stuck indoors, and exercising is a great way to do it. Houses are often full of sweet temptations, and we have no doubt that your stepometer is not what it used to be. Download an exercise or yoga app and find the inner fitness freak that’s been waiting to break free for years.

1 – Research Things To Do When You’re Allowed Back Out

Whilst many of us are disappointed that we have had our holidays & summer plans cancelled unexpectedly, there is no better time to start planning and dreaming about that break, for when you are allowed back out. Start thinking about the new you and look at things you might not otherwise have considered. Jump out of a plane, get muddy at a festival and start planning life after COVID-19.

When working from home it’s important that you take time away from the screen, so we hope you enjoy our top 10 tips of things you can do during your breaks whilst working from home!

Coronavirus: 4 Tips for staying productive and motivated while working from home

Choosing to work from home and having no option due to COVID-19 restrictions are two very different things. Which is why there are now countless employees in the UK experiencing a wide range of emotions about being part of a ‘digital workplace’.

For some, it could be the realisation of a long-held ambition to work from home, with all the flexibility and self-management that brings. No distractions from office politics and no commute!

However, many others could be daunted if not distressed by suddenly being thrust into a dispersed team. Particularly if the shift to remote working came swiftly and ‘out of the blue’. Working from home is not everyone’s ideal scenario. Especially if you also now have bored children off school to distract you, and all the additional worries Coronavirus has whipped up.

So, here are some valuable tips on working from home, when the decision was not yours.

1. Set up your workspace

This first bit of home working advice could possibly be the most challenging, but important. Carve out an area that is your designated workstation.

Putting your laptop on the kitchen table amidst arts and crafts clutter or on your lap near the TV could provide too many temptations. Preferably, find a quiet corner of your bedroom, a section of your dining area, the spare room or even a cosy shed if you have one!

This gives you a way to transition between work and home life.

2. Organise your time

This is another way of making remote working seem more natural and palatable. Stick to your normal workday routine. If you normally start work at 9 am, then start then. If your first task at the office was always to put the kettle on, then do that!

Incidentally, if you didn’t go to work in pyjamas we suggest you don’t do that now either!

It’s all about training your brain to become ‘all business’, and getting ready to face your work tasks in the right frame of mind.

That needs to be maintained all day too, including avoiding social media or the television, which can eat into your productivity in an alarming fashion. If you use social media during breaks, close the tabs during your working blocks to avoid distractions. And make sure you complete your daily to-do-lists, or it will lead to a longer list tomorrow.

3. Take breaks

After saying that, another danger of remote working is letting your ‘to do’ list consume your whole day and evening. It’s hard to switch off when you have projects waiting for you on your device.

It’s important to maintain a work-life balance to stay fresh and well-rested. People find themselves to be more productive when working in longer blocks, without interruptions. Take scheduled short breaks to stretch, rehydrate and give your brain chance to ‘reboot’ – and, if you need to do the washing, do it in your breaks. If you are currently not allowed outdoors in your country due to restrictions, take time to exercise or read a book.

4. Take care of yourself

One of the reasons many people prefer to work in an office is because they enjoy the chance to collaborate and communicate in the ‘real’, not virtual, realm!

Remote working can lead to feelings of isolation and even loneliness. Or feeling out of the loop and underappreciated. Guard against this by using all communications channels available to you and checking in with your line manager frequently.

Don’t just share ‘data’ with your colleagues and supervisors either. Replicate the head office chat with some light-hearted social interaction online.

Most importantly of all, make sure you flag up when you are struggling with either work issues or more emotive areas. Your line manager is there to offer support and guidance, so don’t hesitate to ask for it. Address any roadblocks or pitfalls swiftly. If you need positive affirmation and reassurance, don’t hesitate to flag that up too!

Technology can be your friend, not just your taskmaster. There are various ways to set up video links, including conference calls that involve whole project teams scattered across multiple locations.

Who knows, you may enjoy working from home so much that being part of a digital workforce becomes preferable, not just acceptable!

HR tips: how to manage your remote employees

With over four million UK workers now regularly working for home, it seems businesses are slowly coming round to the benefits of allowing their employees to work remotely. But, with distractions aplenty, no pressure to be productive and a lack of supervision, how do you ensure flexibility works out for both the staff and the business?

Here are four top tips for managing your remote workers:

1. Set overarching goals

When employees are present in the office, it’s easy to keep an eye on their workflow and what they’re achieving, whether that’s through regular meetings or informal conversations. Forbes recently reported that 93% of employees are at their most productive when they work from home, but how do you translate this into traceable and measurable achievements?

It’s important to set goals to ensure things are getting done, whether on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, but try not to micromanage. After all, if you can’t trust the person to do their job, what are you letting them work from home for?

2. Make use of technology

There are a plethora of online tools and software applications out there to track where people are up to with tasks and to communicate what needs to be done, so use them!

Whether it’s a ticketing system to allow you to know when a job has been completed, a fully-integrated project management system or simply Skype, communication regarding work doesn’t have to stop just because staff aren’t in the office.

3. Be flexible

In an office, 9 to 5 is the norm and is often unavoidable, but such strict scheduling isn’t always necessary when someone is working from their home office.

If employees are required to be online at these times, make it clear to them, but also outline that hours are flexible if other things need to be prioritised. Your employees will appreciate your acknowledgement that a work/life balance needs to be maintained.

4. Be open

Remote working can be isolating. As well as encouraging staff to make use of co-working spaces and the like, ensure you let them know that you’re approachable and there to listen to any questions or concerns they may have. If possible, set up regular face-to-face meetings or ‘office days’ so workers can meet up and talk things through.

At Goodwille, we can act as your HR adviser or provide you with a fully outsourced HR function to keep you up to date with current UK best practice. If you need help and advice on how to manage your remote employees, don’t hesitate to contact us or read more about our HR service offering here.