We’ve recently witnessed a large-scale transition to remote working and many companies intend to continue with remote and hybrid work models. While this certainly has many benefits, it can also be concerning when diverse teams experience rudeness and cultural or religious insensitivity and bias towards co-workers in the remote workplace.
Although many of these impolite or insensitive encounters amongst remote teams may be unconscious or a faux pas, many can also be downright rude. From interruptions, disregard for others’ opinions or ideas, subtle discrimination, or cultural bias – rudeness can affect team morale, company culture, collaboration, productivity and ultimately the bottom line.
There is a lot that companies and managers of remote working teams can do to ensure politeness, inclusion and civility. In this article we explore 9 top tips on how managers of remote teams can proactively encourage polite behaviour in the virtual workplace.
How to manage rude behaviour in the virtual office
People working remotely can behave differently from how they may do in person. If there’s a feeling of being disconnected from your co-workers and somewhat anonymous, people may feel like bad behaviour is less noticeable. This can open up remote workplaces to rude behaviour unless managers are proactive in pre-empting and dealing with instances of virtual workplace rudeness.
One of the more obvious ways to deal with workplace rudeness is to host diversity training and workshops on bias to show employees what type of behaviour is and isn’t acceptable. But over the long-term, this needs to be accompanied with actions that create inclusive work environments and personal connections among staff to build a positive work culture.
Managers play an important role in helping to spark and foster dialogue and positive work relationships among staff. Managers can also approach instances of rudeness using interventions that address and stop unwarranted behavior and attitudes.
Below are some top tips for cultivating positive relationships among team members to minimize instances of workplace rudeness.
1. Explain your expectations for workplace politeness
It’s important for managers to explicitly explain their expectations for workplace politeness so that employees know what will and won’t be tolerated. This also helps set the company culture around issues like discrimination, respect for others and inclusivity – and can help to minimise rudeness.
Managers and companies can informally explain the rules around meeting etiquette and collaborative tasks. And they can also explicitly mention these in their remote work policies. For example, managers can tell staff that interruptions and speaking over one another during team meetings will not be tolerated. This sets a clear standard about what will not be tolerated and helps build work norms and company culture.
2. Create a culture of following up on mishaps
There’s a lot that can get lost in translation during a Zoom call or video chat between colleagues. And oftentimes it’s more challenging to read body behavior and gestures when you’re online which means virtual mishaps and misinterpretations are more frequent.
Instead of sweeping these awkward moments under the carpet, rather create a company culture of following up to discuss any mishaps. This approach shows that you care and are considerate of your teammates and acknowledgement and open discussion can do a lot to bring teams closer together.
Managers can lead by example and acknowledge their own misinterpretations and social mishaps.
3. Talk about bad behavior
If a member of staff has been rude or behaved badly, then address it directly by calling a private meeting with them to discuss it. This can help to chat about ways to change rude behavior through conversation and learning.
Rather than scolding an employee for rude behaviour, try to have a constructive conversation – as that may be more effective. Find ways to offer support to the person who was treated disrespectfully too.
4. Address bias
Many people have bias – whether unconscious or not, towards people who are different from them. Managers therefore need to be good at noticing bias in the workplace and addressing it appropriately when it arises.
Employers can also minimize bias by proactively avoiding it through workplace training and in the hiring process by being upfront about your remote work policies.
5. Take time to be polite
We can all get so caught up in work at times, that we rush past being polite and taking a personal interest in our colleagues – that we just get straight down to business. While this may be great for work efficiency, it’s actually very important to give people time to share what’s on their minds, to ask how everyone is doing and to take a personal interest in the lives of your staff.
We’ve all been in meetings where it’s all about work and no one has time for any personal ‘niceties’. Participants in these types of meetings can feel isolated, overlooked, and unimportant. It can destroy morale and misses an important opportunity to create positive work culture and connectedness.
It’s also important that when communicating electronically that you’re aware of how your message could be misinterpreted. That’s why it is important that you try to use positive language – especially when giving feedback – even if it’s constructive criticism.
6. Workplace policies
Forward-thinking companies are putting policies about discrimination and rude behaviour that will not be tolerated, in their hiring processes and work contracts. That helps to set expectations from the start about what is tolerated, expected and what implications of certain unacceptable behaviour is.
If you have a remote work policy, you could add a section about online etiquette and politeness, and how rudeness and bias will be addressed. Reinforce these policies by discussing them with teams on a regular basis and implement training if possible.
7. Cultivate a polite company culture
Cultivating a great team culture and sense of community can help employees feel connected and engaged which can lead to greater collaboration, efficiency and productivity. Creating a sense of community takes intentional action from top management down.
It’s particularly important to do this in online working environments, because unless you schedule time for colleagues to get to know each other informally, there may not be any opportunities to do so. By comparison, in an in-office work environment, colleagues can often engage informally at the water cooler or in the office canteen.
If staff feel that their company genuinely cares about them and takes an interest in them, this can give them a sense of belonging and connection. That has the effect of employees feeling more likely to support the company’s mission. This can have many positive spin-off effects including enhancing customer loyalty.
There are many ways that managers can cultivate remote work company culture. This includes organising retreat and workshops, training events, virtual team-building events and by implementing informal gatherings like a weekly online book club or coffee-chats.
8. Create a dispute resolution policy and process
It’s good to establish clear rules for staff so that they know what your expectations are. Rules also provide staff with foresight about potential consequences for their actions. If you develop a dispute resolution policy and process this can help to streamline how you deal with workplace conflicts and can help standardize the process.
It’s also useful to give consideration to how you plan to deal with conflicts, and to establish a method for staff to both submit and address any issues they may have. If there is a conflict that needs resolving, then the first step in the process may be to discuss it with impartial mediators. This includes identifying what the conflict is about, and talking through possible solutions. Ideally both parties will agree to a solution and then act on that.
9. Hire polite people
One way to help ensure that everyone on your team is polite and courteous, is to try and employ people who display those qualities. During the hiring process, of course it’s necessary to focus on skills and experience, but it’s also important to make sure that potential employees are a good fit for your company’s culture and that they will get along well with other staff.
During the hiring process you can look for candidates that are honest and are able to be open about some of the weaknesses. You can also try to identify candidates that have similar values to the rest of your team and your company, and people that are genuinely interested in others and in collaborating. Also look for people that are polite and kind when talking about others, and people who are compassionate and caring.
Final thoughts on managing rude behavior in remote teams
Employees who are rude and inconsiderate towards their fellow team members can upset the morale and company culture of that team. This in turn can cause conflict and tensions, can disrupt collaboration efforts and can lessen productivity. In extreme cases it could even lead to poor retention rates.
There are many things that managers can do to ensure that staff are polite and courteous to each other. That starts from the hiring process – hiring polite people can help to minimise conflicts.
Virtual teams can also suffer from lack of connectedness, which can lead to rude behaviors. So intentionally bringing colleagues together and encouraging a positive company culture can also help to fuel polite and nice behaviour.
Other ways to minimise rudeness in the remote workplace are to explain your company’s expectations about polite behaviour, to cultivate a sense of community, to lead by example and to address bias and rude behaviour head-on.