Technology has allowed many to work remotely. This was common even before the onset of COVID-19 changing the landscape of today’s workplace. In 2020, employers, when possible, shifted most of their employees to work from home. Today, many are still scheduled to continue doing so, others may be going into an office or the field in a hybrid model or returning to their regular workplaces as before.
Issues of harassment, including sexual harassment, have taken on a new dimension with more individuals working remotely. Work settings have become more casual since so many are working in their homes, personal spaces usually never experienced by co-workers. In large cities with small apartments, some are even working in their bedrooms. Some of the technology being used is more common to social media, subconsciously allowing some to feel that they can cross personal lines with colleagues or even direct reports. This informality could lead to more off-color humor, comments in chats (directed at only one, a few rather than all) or discussions about politics and other topics that can be controversial. In fact, conversations about topics in the greater society that are often considered less recommended for a diverse workplace with varying perspectives are causing uncomfortable tension.
Video conference calls have the visual component. Some employees may prefer not to be seen because of the personal background in their home. Requesting that someone use the camera function could be solely to encourage engagement like an in-person interaction. However, if not necessary or preferred, it could be interpreted as harassment - feeling that the request is so they can be ogled by the one requesting it.
Worse, this could lead to stalking. If work calendars are shared, a potential stalker can know more about you when you are in your personal space, your home. Employer policies and practices must reflect these changes to protect all employees. Virtual backgrounds help conceal personal spaces. Zoom-bombing is real (it happened to me once; write to me and I will explain what it is and how it happened).
Zero tolerance means just that!