Though it may seem like toxicity is something most deeply rooted in physical, in-person interactions with contentious coworkers, there’s most definitely such a thing as employees who are toxic remotely.
Whether they occasionally work from home (WFH) or are permanently based outside the office, these problematic workers are the worst.
How do you identify a toxic remote employee when you don’t have the benefit of being able to study their behaviors on a moment to moment level during the nine-to-five grind? The clues are obvious if you know where to look.
Here are three ways to determine which employees are toxic remotely:
1. They don’t respect your time
As the most precious currency on Earth, time is vital, and respecting the time of others is absolutely essential. This cannot be understated when it comes to discussing employees who treat time-sensitive concerns and commitments as an afterthought. Their lack of care constitutes one of the core pillars of being a toxic remote employee.
If you’re hosting or participating in a video call and it’s important that a remote employee be there, there’s nothing worse than said individual not showing up on time.
Either the absent individual in question will miss key information and require a recap later on, or worse, they’ll single-handedly hold up the entire meeting in the event it’s imperative that they’re present. In this sense, a remote employee who doesn’t care about showing up to virtual meetings on time can greatly diminish the productivity of others.
Similarly, if you’re dealing with an employee who can’t be bothered to respond to emails in a timely fashion, that’s another obvious example of disrespect and flagrant toxicity. The same sentiment applies when a remote employee is expected to show up in the company Slack by a certain time and they don’t, thereby leaving their duty unfulfilled.
Many companies with remote operations run on fail-prone pipelines, and if one valve refuses to communicate and cooperate, the whole thing implodes.
When an employee willfully acts as that one slow cog in the machine, they’re undeniably toxic to the overall health of the company.
2. They communicate unprofessionally
Remote employees need to communicate in a timely manner and attend virtual meetings and chats when they’re supposed to. But how they communicate is of equal importance. If they can’t converse in a positive or neutral way, that’s another sign they might be a toxic remote employee.
When outside of the office, it can be easy for some workers to forget the human element. Thus, when they attend video calls and respond to emails, they may be curt, crass, or worse.
Social pressures in an office space ensure that most people function well enough together, but those pressures don’t exist for remote employees. If they don’t like a co-worker and want to cause trouble, they can do so and simply close their laptop screen afterward, deleting said co-worker from their reality. The immediate consequences of bad behavior are negated.
When a remote employee is mouthing off during video calls or sending unusually harsh, dismissive emails, that’s a bad sign. On a similar note, if they seem lackadaisical with their speech and say inappropriate, suggestive, gossipy, or otherwise uncalled for things to co-workers in their correspondences, that also shows they’re remotely toxifying standard workplace etiquette.
3. They slack off
Even though a remote employee may be communicating in a prompt manner and maintaining positive interactions with their co-workers, there’s still room for ample toxicity in the form of productivity abuse.
Toxic employees will search for ways to take advantage of the remote nature of their work in order to produce subpar results, cut corners, and slack off.
The type of employee who necessitates a pair of eyes over their shoulders at all times is a hassle, and if they require such supervision because of constant, deliberate insubordination, that’s toxicity.
The issue is, when these sorts of workers are allowed to operate remotely, all productivity that could be squeezed out of them is put in jeopardy.
If you’re on a team of people and one of them uses their remote environment to submit work of uneven quality, then takes advantage of their seclusion to avoid criticism, critiques, and anything that might hold them accountable, that’s cut-and-dried toxic behavior.
Depending on the field, of course, subpar results could be due to many factors, so a remote worker might be doing their best but just be in a bad spot because of circumstance. Though, if external pressures are the issue, you’ll likely see that reflected across the board as opposed to just with an individual employee. And if said employee’s issues are personal and cannot be resolved in a timely manner, that’s also an issue. But none of that is toxic.
When there’s ample evidence that an employee’s productivity and quality of work is unsatisfactory due to them abusing the complicated nature of holding people accountable remotely, that is toxic, willfully irresponsible, and blatantly unacceptable.
This phenomenon likely isn’t going to be commonly seen among those who fight to work remotely, since those individuals earn that right by producing their best work no matter where they are. But for certain, traditionally in-office employees who need supervision and are forced into a work-from-home situation, the toxicity risk is present.
Spot a toxic remote employee by studying their mannerisms
When it comes to determining which employees are toxic remotely, the key is to study their mannerisms.
Do they have a bad attitude, a tendency to show up late to meetings, and have a habit of producing uneven results whenever they seem uninterested in their duties? Any one of these three red flags is a warning that an employee is a bad fit for either the company they’re working for, the remote lifestyle as a whole, or both.
With that in mind, the lesson is simple: make sure remote employees are maintaining the same standards as in-office employees would, and don’t let a company’s culture or its people suffer because of one bad remote apple.
This article was written by Robert Carnevale and originally published on The Ladders.