Incivility with a Hybrid Workforce
Before COVID, most of us worked in offices full time. We knew the contours of workplace incivility—the kinds of actions (and inactions) that felt disrespectful. These behaviors were most often born from bias or lack of awareness. Incivility cost companies and employees time, money, productivity, and turnover—not to mention potential legal costs. Such actions also cost employees distress and even their jobs: 12% of employees who experience incivility in the workplace quit specifically because of the incivility they experienced.
Incivility didn’t stop when many of us began working remotely full time. Many of the same biases played at in the same ways, only remotely: who gets interrupted at meetings, who gets credit for ideas, who was offered high-status work. Generally uncivil behavior often became more commonplace as we were all stressed out, burnt out, and didn’t always have the time and mental energy for the daily niceties that make our work relationships function well. We had to be reminded to ask each other how we’re doing.
We all missed the casual micro-interactions before and after meetings, in the coffee area, making eye contact walking down the hall or sitting next to each other. Many of us didn’t realize how important these interactions were in binding us together in a good way, in motivating us to be our best, most respectful, selves. And how these micro-interactions often provided feedback when something we said or did caused the other person distress, and being able to see their distress through subsequent micro-interactions, thus providing feedback.
As many of us look forward to being back at the office part time, we will likely still have colleagues, business partners, and clients who are remote. Here are some tips to minimize some types of disrespect or incivilities that are often unintentional:
Remember to say please and thank you. Seriously. It conveys appreciation and that you’re not taking the other people for granted.
When you are most harried, stressed, or frustrated, pause before interacting. Try to bring your “best self” to the interaction.
Remember that with interactions via video, it’s harder for people to know the impact of their actions, particularly negative ones. When we’re unintentionally uncivil to someone—because of something we’ve said or didn’t say—it can be harder to know how it landed. Check in with people at the end of the call.
We have even fewer social cues with emails and messages. We may “read into” them all kinds of emotions and intentions. Don’t! Assume the most respectful interpretation until you have good cause to assume otherwise.
Try to create remote versions of pleasant micro-interactions. Chat (text or video) about something you have in common or some difference you’re curious about. This generates good will, and everyone to give each other the benefit of the doubt when needed, and the positive foundation to give each other hard feedback when necessary.