March 16, 2023

Forging inclusive work cultures remotely and in-person

*Written in collaboration with Hannah MacLean Reaburn

This article is part of a “Forging Inclusive Work Cultures” series by Latitude Management for International Women’sDay. This series addresses different ways in which employers can #EmbraceEquity in their workplaces.

As a firm that specializes in creating positive work environments, Latitude Management is acutely aware of the need to #EmbraceEquity and create workplaces where women thrive. Women, trans, and non-binary people are disproportionately targeted by workplace harassment and violence in comparison to men. Moreover, when gender intersects with other identities, it creates unique and compounded experiences of discrimination, harassment, and violence in the workplace. Women may face additional challenges in the hybrid or remote workplace, making this an important point of reflection on International Women’s Day and beyond.

The convenience and flexibility of remote work makes virtual workplaces an appealing option for employers and workers alike. Many employers have therefore decided to maintain some degree of remote work through, for example, hybrid options. As workplaces shift, it is crucial to be attuned to the challenges and advantages of in-person and remote work as they pertain to workplace harassment and violence.

Remote versus in-person: Is one better than the other?

Though employees and employers are likely to have preferences between the in-person and remote work for any number of reasons, when it comes to preventing and responding to workplace harassment and violence, there is no easy answer. Neither remote nor in-person, nor any strategy in between, offers a complete solution to workplace harassment and violence.

According to recent polls, women tend to express a greater desire than men to work either entirely or partially remotely, with a difference of approximately 10%.1 Hybrid work arrangements are tied to power dynamics within teams, particularly in male-dominated workplaces.2 Women may struggle to express their opinions in meetings and to their superiors, either because of previous experiences or due to fear of being unheard or not taken seriously. Remoteworkers, regardless of gender, face similar challenges when they work alongside non-remote colleagues, which cancause a lack of psychological safety. These factors can compound, making it more challenging for women to speak up in virtual meetings and leaving them feeling overlooked or ignored.3 They may feel disconnected and uninformed due to their absence from informal interactions, leading to a sense of isolation and a lack of social support that in-person employees typically enjoy. This can hamper effective collaboration and damage relationships.4

While some workers expressed no difference in severity, frequency, duration, fear of reporting, harasser tactics, retaliation, or ways of reporting as workplaces shifted with the pandemic5, the insights of those who did note changes can offer important lessons for workplaces.

In fact, a significant number of workers experienced an increase in the severity, frequency, and duration of incidents when they were working remotely, according to a study by the Centre for Research and Education on Violence AgainstWomen and Children (CREVAWC).6 Some workers found that being physically removed from the office meant that others in the organization were less aware of negative interactions at work.7 Depending on the situation, this may mean fewer potential witnesses for investigations, both for specific incidents and for general testimonies on worker behaviour. On the other hand, a recent study of workplace chat technology, found that chats can bring workplace harassment, which the authors describe as often operating “invisibly”, into the light through written evidence.8 The corollary is that chat technology can similarly be used by respondents as evidence against allegations.9

Despite the increase in incidents noted above, the CREVAWC study found that other survey participants experienced a decrease in the impact of harassment and violence during the peak of the pandemic, supported by interviewees stating that being away from the office offered them relief from adverse workspaces.10 While physically removing a complainant or respondent from the space may be necessary as an interim solution and can be facilitated with current technologies, employers should not see remote work as a one-stop solution for resolving workplace hostility. Federal employers and Quebec employers have the legal duty to provide safe workspaces for their employees and to prevent violence and harassment,11 and employers should aim for more comprehensive resolutions than merely displacing the issue. Further, employees should not feel that they need to remove themselves physically from their workspaces to be safe.

Senior leaders within organizations should consider the potential unintended negative consequences of different hybrid working arrangements over time, particularly for women. Establishing a culture of psychological safety and trust, both individually and collectively, is particularly crucial. Managers can also play a crucial role in balancing the needs of remote and in-office employees, acknowledging the inequalities in resources and visibility and taking proactive measures to address the power imbalances this may create.

Conclusion

To be preventative and responsive to harassment and violence, organizations that are seeking to #EmbraceEquity and create spaces where women thrive need to be attentive to the ways that remote and in-person work create unique challenges.

In fact, remote and in-person workplaces create nuanced challenges for employers working to meet their legal obligations on employee safety. While awareness of these challenges is important, employers should ensure that their resources are responsive to employees’ needs. This may require, for example, accounting for how part-time and full-time status impact employees, or considering how client-facing roles create different vulnerabilities than internal roles.

Comprehensive actions like developing clear and fulsome policies, mandating education sessions, participating in workplace assessments, or engaging with consultations from organizations specialized in harassment and violence and issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion may all contribute to creating workspaces that respond appropriately and prevent harassment and violence.

Key take-aways for employers

  • Conduct regular check-ins with employees (whether they are working in person or remotely);
  • Be attentive to how social dynamics within the company have changed as people shift between online and in-person work;
  • Ensure that policies on the use of technology and social media are up to date and reflect the needs of employees and of the organization.

Latitude Management is a multidisciplinary firm with a focus on investigations, mediations, training and consultation regarding issues arising from harassment, violence and discrimination in the workplace. Please do not hesitate to contact us to learn more.

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  1. Voir Martine Haas, “Women Face a Double Disadvantage in the Hybrid Workplace” (March 24, 2022), en ligne à https://hbr.org/2022/03/women-face-a-double-disadvantage-in-the-hybrid-workplace.
  2. Ibid
  3. Ibid
  4. Voir Mark Mortensen et Martine Haas, “Making the Hybrid Workplace Fair” (February 24, 2021), en ligne à https://hbr.org/2021/02/making-the-hybrid-workplace-fair?ab=at_art_art_1x4_s02.
  5. Voir Adriana Berlingieri et al, « Harassment and Violence in Canadian Workplaces: It’s [Not] Part of the Job » (2022) à la p 14, en ligne (pdf): London, ON: Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children, Western University < https://documents.clcctc.ca/human-rights/Respect-at-Work-Report-2022-03-28-EN.pdf > [Berlingieri et al].
  6. Voir Adriana Berlingieri et al à la p 14 (le rapport utilise des définitions internationales de ces termes, mais les employeurs au Canada devraient néanmoins noter cette tendance, car elle est révélatrice des expériences des travailleurs canadiens).
  7. Voir Berlingieri et al à la p 14.
  8. Voir Nelson Tenório & Pernille Bjørn, « Online Harassment in the Workplace: The Role of Technology in Labour Law Disputes » (2019) 28:3–4 The Journal of Collaborative Computing and Work Practices 293 aux pp 296, 308, 309 [Tenório & Bjørn].
  9. Voir Tenório & Bjørn à la p 309.
  10. Voir Berlingieri et al à la p 14.
  11. Voir généralement Québec, Loi sur la santé et la sécurité du travail, RLRQ c S-2.1; Code canadien du travail, LRC 1985, c L-2.