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Hackernoon logoAddressing Digital Harassment of Women in Remote Working Conditions by@adina-humayoon

Addressing Digital Harassment of Women in Remote Working Conditions

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@adina-humayoonAdina Humayoon

Part-time Feminist, Full-time rebellious brownie and definitely fun at parties

Covid-19 has brought out the worst in us, with an increase in reported incidents of cyberbullying and harassment online. The cases have expanded from social media to a newly adopted “Remote-working” environment. 

The immediate dispersal of employees as the pandemic hit a peak left people with little to no time to set up a proper work station in their home. 

Work-place harassment has sadly always been there for as long as one can remember. But harassment while working remotely poses a much more significant threat to the well-being of the person and their family. 

Work from home has given outsiders an in-let to your personal lives. It can be in the form of video-surveillance or zoom meetings. It seems normal, but the problem arises when you have a whole different life exposed at the back. Not everyone is comfortable with it. 

Predatory eyes can find anything to target, and while it is never the victim’s fault. Awareness and precautions are necessary and vital for internet safety of women

What Does Harassment in a Digital Space Look Like?

We are all aware of the harassment that takes place physically. From unsolicited touches to sexual advancements. And work-from-home may come as a relief for most women who had to deal with it daily. 

The index for sexual misconduct may have decreased now, but a rising number in unemployment maybe its cause. It may also suggest that a sense of fear has gripped most women who are afraid to lose their job in the middle of a deadly pandemic if they spoke up about being harassed. 

But the lack of physical human contact amongst employees, resulting in almost no physical-sexual misconduct can also justify it. 

But that’s the thing about harassment; it just doesn’t end there. There are numerous forms to it, cyberbullying being the highest of them that always finds its way back.  

Most predators manage to seep through and misuse the tools required to work remotely, including emails, instant messaging applications, and video conferencing.

These applications manage to give a glimpse of a person’s personal life. Images, clothing of choice, or the events that are happening behind during a video conference can become a subject of discrimination and harassment.

You need to be vigilant when encountering harassment while under remote working conditions to identify and deal with it accordingly. 

Types of Harassment taking place Digitally

Personal Harassment

Personal Harassments are where a person encounters offensive jokes, crude remarks, personal humiliation, and comments that create a hostile work environment.

It can occur during a video conference, where you are exposing your home life to your co-workers. While it is normal for others, some might try to comment on your lifestyle, home life, etc.

While many of us know how to handle it, this can become a sticky situation for those who have a hard time letting their guard down. 

Power Harassment

Power Harassment is using your power to bully your staff who report to you directly. It can range from verbal to physical violence or elaborately intimidating subordinates through crude remarks on them and their work.

Misuse of authority occurs when they demand work that is too advanced for an employee or makes them do the impossible while holding their job at stake just because they can. 

Work-from-Home is a tough task, but being asked to neglect the house for work is also not the right thing to do, especially when everyone, from kids to parents are in those households. 

Not only that, unnecessary interference in an employee’s life and personal decisions also come under this. Exposing your household conditions during a zoom meeting does not invite the other person to comment on it.

Psychological Harassment

Psychological harassment is close to messing with the victim’s mind by creating a negative impact on their account, either by targeting them personally or creating gossip or rumors that are false and would pose a threat to the victim’s mental well-being.

These can come in the form of sarcastic comments and deter one’s work or the person. Employs are encouraged to get a thick skin and ignore such remarks, but it only promotes a toxic work environment. 

These things tend to increase while working remotely, precisely due to a significant communication gap building up with each passing day. A difference in tone during emails and misunderstood skype messages is enough to create an awkward situation due to an absolute misunderstanding. 

All these things become a cause of stress and anxiety. And if you feel this way when you receive an email from your boss or your co-worker, it is a significant sign that the person is taking a toll on your mental health, which might have lasting effects and deteriorate your work quality. 

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment doesn’t always mean physical, sexual encounters, or advancements. It talks more about exertion control and power against the “weaker” being, from sharing sexual and pornographic images to, making fun of someone’s sexuality. 

Objectification of someone’s body through explicit emails and messages. Suggesting sexual advancements in those texts and calls.

It is mistaken as sexual attraction, but it’s far from that. If it makes you uncomfortable and disturbed throughout the encounter, it’s not an attraction. And you need to get away immediately, no matter how manipulative and persuasive the harasser is. 

Unwanted sexual advances are always inappropriate, primarily occurring at your work-place. 

Discriminatory Harassment

When talking about Discriminatory Harassment, we talk about numerous things here. From harassment based on someone’s religious belief, race, gender, or sexual orientation, they all classify under this banner.

You are held against your personal choices (or not), or based on the difference of opinion are forms of discrimination.

Being verbally and mentally abusive about it, creating problems for your colleague or employee based on these terms is highly unethical and labeled harassment.


The ongoing pandemic has already caused a lot of strain. Living in lockdown while working full-time and managing household chores is a hectic and stressful task. 

Harassment in this situation is like adding fuel to the fire. But it is preventable with a set of rules that we can follow. 

Starting with the remote hiring process that some companies are observing at a rapid pace. While it is good to see opportunities out there during COVID’19, a proper code of conduct must be established and followed. 

Companies need to re-evaluate their policies and accommodate their employees because it’s about time we all agree that COVID’19 is here to stay. 

The renewal of such policies should be after close consideration of all their employees and their living conditions. Many people have relocated and are in the process of moving in their families to save rent money, etc. There needs to be no room for any sort of discrimination based on one’s living condition. 

An initial virtual orientation covering the basis of the new policies can be conducted. It would include the basis of all types of harassment that can occur remotely, along with effective and immediate ways to report them. 

If, despite all these rules, you are harassed by a co-worker, report to your HR department immediately. File a proper complaint with all the proof and report it immediately, do not ignore or wait for it to escalate. 

If your company fails to assist you, you can file a case against the abuser as federal law offers protection against harassment at work, which may cause disturbance and a hostile work environment.

To create a sense of formality in the meetings, a generalized yet straightforward dress code should be the norm for video conferencing with the team or other employees. Leaving no excuse for any casual comments passed around on anyone’s visual appearance.

A strict policy revolving around the mode of communication, i.e., Emails, Video Meetings, Screen sharing, and instant messaging, should emerge.

The idea of recording a one-on-one video-meeting is still being tossed around the table. But if you do it with consent and as per your company’s guideline, it is possible. Or turn it into a group meeting by involving your colleagues, preventing the harasser from acting.

You can also block the potential harasser when office hours are over, and on weekends, it is essential to not engage in any conversation outside of working hours. Even if you do, it has to be through your official email. 

While Addressing the Situation

Everyone mentions ways to protect yourself and all the right rules to follow. But no one says how to behave during this stressful time. 

Despite it being virtual, it can easily take a toll on one’s health and can lead to rather toxic events. To stop yourself from drowning in the pit, you need to make sure of the following things. 

Stay strong and confident. Find the right support system to confide in. Be it, your friends, family, or support groups like HeartMob. They will help you get the closure you deserve and need.

Proper medical guidance is always encouraged in times of distress. There is no shame or harm in visiting a therapist. 

If things get tricky and life-threatening for you and your family, seek the right authorities. Gather up all the necessary information and report. 

If your indifference is the solution, then continue that. No harasser or abuser is worth wasting your precious time and health. 

Bystander Intervention

Having a reliable support system or a good team at your work-place is necessary. Good friends are not only there to make work bearable, but also to help you out in times of distress like these. 

Having proper knowledge of bystander intervention and helping out is equally necessary for others as well.

Victims reach out to their co-workers most of the time when they have been a subject of harassment, or something goes wrong at work. If someone reaches out to you, or you happen to witness a violation of someone’s privacy or harassment, that you know is wrong in all terms, Speak up!

Being left alone to deal with a tough situation like this will only make things worse for the victim, and the harasser will quickly get away without any consequences to his actions. And you might be equally responsible for turning a deaf ear towards it all. 

If you are a bystander, intervene. Call out the harasser or report them, you are a witness, use your place wisely. You can save someone from years of trauma and mental health issues. Help your co-worker out in reporting the case to HR. 

In the End

Harassment is a tough thing to deal with, but you must know this isn’t the end. There is more to life than all this. And no matter how hard it may seem at the time, it too shall pass. 

With the right guidance and support, you can always fight back. It is your life, and you should be in control of it. No one can disrupt it for you. 

And the most important thing is, it’s never your fault! 


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