Gustavo Razzetti, hired by companies to improve their work culture, has seen a change since the pandemic started last year: more political brawls, more managers losing control of their employees, a strange mix of hyper-engagement and lack of empathy.
“The employees turn off their cameras, hide behind avatars and become disrespectful,” said Razzetti, whose advice is called Fearless Culture. “They are aggressive towards each other.”
Office calls in some companies look just as unruly as conversations on the internet. That’s because office calls are now internet calls. Many companies have been online for almost a year and plan to continue well into 2021. And just as the people behind the keyboards are bolder on Twitter, they’re bolder behind the keyboards on workplace messaging platforms like Microsoft Teams and Slack – with all the good and bad, all bad, but with a lot more legal liability.
Work culture experts say companies can take steps before lawyers get involved. These include: closely monitoring large chat groups, listening to complaints, reminding employees of their work and not joking with friends, and being aware that switching to a virtual workforce can expose new issues such as age discrimination.
In many American companies it was the first time that colleagues had to deal with working and socializing almost exclusively online. There’s probably no turning back: Nearly half of the U.S. workforce works full-time from home, according to Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom. According to a study by S&P Global, which provides financial analysis, 67 percent of companies expect working from home to be permanent or permanent.
“When the pandemic started, everyone patted themselves on the back and said, ‘Oh, look, productivity hasn’t dropped. We have switched to digital. We did things we wanted to do – streamline processes, put things online, decentralize decisions. ‘But they forgot about culture,’ said Jennifer Howard-Grenville, professor of organizational studies at Cambridge University. “Now reality has hit.”
When message boards, chat rooms, and Facebook become work tools, off-color humor is more common. Aggressive political discussions that would be out of place in the booths now seem OK. The hierarchy of physical space disappears when everyone is a username: confronting senior management doesn’t require a walk or knocking on the door, and confronting colleagues doesn’t require sitting next to them for the rest of the day.
“I’ve seen text bullying on the various types of internal instant messenger platforms, and we’ve seen an increase in those types of complaints,” said John Marshall, an employment and civil rights attorney in Columbus, Ohio. The harassment from colleagues on internal messaging platforms is not new, he added, but there is more of it now.
These new work tools have been designed to look and feel like message boards and social media. Workers notice this and adopt similar behaviors, researchers say. The performative nature of Slack, where colleagues initiate discussions in huge chat rooms by adding emojis, for example, means that the frenzy increases and is difficult to contain once they start.
“Employees ask,” Well, what do I know Slack is like? “Said Mark D. Agars, a professor at California State University who studies organizational psychology.” It’s a Reddit board. So we rely on these norms. And these norms are very different from the professional norms. “
Some employers have responded severely to online political chatter. The managing director of the cryptocurrency company Coinbase, whose employees have complained about different wages for women and minorities, recently urged employees to stick to work problems or find another job while chatting online. Some of them accepted the offer.
However, work culture experts say there is a middle ground. Money saved in office space is spent on hiring corporate therapists like Mr Razzetti.
He has a protocol for emergency chat situations. First, he switches off the problematic Slack channel. Then he breaks up the team for an intervention. The colleagues are asked to reflect on their own. Next, they can meet up with another colleague to share their feelings, and then in groups of four. Eventually, these small groups can begin to reintegrate into a new Slack channel.
Business & Economy
Jan. 22, 2021, 7:23 p.m. ET
Some of the professors and consultants recommend simple solutions: take turns having conversations or posting in meetings, needing a quiet time during a video meeting to read something together before discussing, and giving employees 90 seconds to get together before a politically free working day begins Deal politics.
“We have people struggling at work online like teenagers,” Razzetti said. “That can be a very serious thing.” So basically the recommendation from professionals is to treat us all as if we were teenagers who fought online.
As with everything that relates to communication in the workplace – especially text-based conversations at the workplace – there are legal obligations. There is a huge legal difference between a troll with an opinion who is an internet stranger and a troll with an opinion that can contribute to your performance assessment. People could complain if they think they are being harassed.
Anyone who wants to prevent legal liability knows: text is dangerous. The fact that discussions in the workplace are now taking place in online chats is a nightmare for legal teams.
“You have to be sure that you are not writing – documenting – anything that offends people wildly,” said Leslie Caputo, whose title is People Scientist at Humu, which makes software for workplace culture. “For the millennials, the first age we grew up with IM, we are so used to our predominant interactions happening this way. It can be difficult to remember that this is a workplace with different rules. “
Lawyers are increasingly seeing complaints. Part of the risk is how casually people interact on the platforms to encourage casual interaction.
“We generally see more bad behavior and treat employees like they are your online friends,” said Danielle E. Sweets, a Los Angeles personal injury attorney.
But friendly jokes for some can be evidence of litigation for others.
“If someone experiences a hostile work environment, it is advertised,” said Christina Cheung, an Allred, Moroco & Goldberg partner who focuses on harassment cases.
A workplace discrimination law firm recently published this blog post detailing their skills: “If you’ve been discriminated or harassed in a virtual meeting, don’t wait… contact a skilled workplace discrimination attorney today in New Jersey to discuss your legal options, “wrote Phillips & Associates.
Much has been written about the gender gap in working from home, how mothers put a disproportionate amount of housework on their laps. But working from home widens another gap: the generation gap. Older employees are often less comfortable with the constant digital chatter normal for younger employees.
“It feels so bad to them not to be in a room with people. You couldn’t jump into Slack that quickly, ”said Ms. Caputo from Humu. “How will this affect performance reviews? There could be serious ageism stemming from all of this. “
For example, an employee has difficulty navigating new software or accidentally stays silent and the boss makes a “boomer” joke.
These changes have advantages, of course. Ms. Caputo connected with colleagues in a new way. Your daughter has severe food allergies, and now there is a Humu chat room for people who can deal with the same issues. A member of the management joined. They all connect.
The norms of Internet conversation are based on a unique mixture of anonymity, lack of self-confidence, a sense of protection and humor. Behind an avatar and a username, we can be duller or crueler, sloppier and braver and charming. Online communication conveys a feeling of distance and security and is – easily overlooked when the handshake in the virtual workplace culture – is fun. It also empowers employees who may not be as ready to express themselves in physical environments.
Sammy Courtright, co-founder and chief brand officer of Ten Spot, a company developing tools for healthy engagement in the workplace, now compares workplace behavior to online dating. Meeting someone at a bar and starting a conversation takes a level of empathy and nuance that isn’t always required when meeting someone on Tinder.
“It empowers in a way – people can say what they want to say,” Ms. Courtright said. “Maybe their persona is more direct online. You can be who you want to be. “