As employees around the world gradually return to their offices, it’s up to building managers to create an environment in which workers can feel safe and comfortable. But such a feat can be easier said than done.
At Novel Coworking, we’ve been hard at work sanitizing our buildings, training our staff on new procedures, and closely monitoring local and international health regulations. We think we’ve learned a thing or two about designing safe and healthy environments to offer a few tips for building managers and office owners everywhere.
2020 Administrative controls
Below are just a few of the new regulations in place by many businesses around the world in response to the pandemic.
Temperature measurements are arguably the least effective measure used by businesses today. These involve using a contactless thermometer (also known as a thermometer gun or infrared thermometer) to read people’s temperatures. The reasoning is that if someone has a fever, they are more likely to have COVID and can thus be turned away for everyone’s safety.
But the problem is that temperature gun readings aren’t accurate. It’s already been proven that someone can carry the disease and not show any symptoms. Conversely, just because someone has a fever does not make them a carrier of the coronavirus. Use your best judgment and support your use of a temperature gun with more effective practices, like social distancing.
Washing hands with soap has shown to be effective in killing off all kinds of bacteria transmitted through touch. In the event there are no sinks nearby, hand sanitizers can also do the trick. Make sure to use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and to stock them in the office— at the front desk, in meeting rooms, and in other high-traffic areas.
Door knobs, counters, tables, and even phones… we don’t always think about how many surfaces we touch without washing hands. It’s more important now than ever before to be on top of surface sanitation— using alcohol-based cleaners to wipe down commonly pressed or held objects to reduce the risk of contamination. Office owners— be extra diligent about wiping down computers and tables after every use.
In some cases, you may even want to consider shoe disinfection if you’ve been to high-risk areas (such as hospitals or nursing homes)
As recommended by numerous health institutes around the world, social distancing is still the most effective way to prevent the spread of disease. Putting at least six feet of space between you and others limits the distance that the virus can travel. Offices will need to be designed to prevent coworkers from sitting or standing too close.
9 Foundations of a healthy building
Each building is unique in its design and technological capability. Whether it’s a modern or older facility, there are a few categories of cleanliness and eco-friendliness that every building should strive to excel in.
- Ventilation – Proper ventilation is a two-way street. Not only do you need to help air out toxins and pollutants such as carbon dioxide and unpleasant odors, but you also need to filter the air coming in, particularly if you work by a busy street.
- Air Quality – Did you know that your office equipment and furniture can actually release toxic chemicals? Common office chairs and desks have been found to use flame retardants, formaldehyde, and other chemicals that can lead to cancer or other serious health problems. Make sure you purchase furniture that keeps your air clean and healthy.
- Thermal Health – Anyone who’s ever been in an office or classroom understands that the right room temperature is key to maintaining focus. Setting up smart thermostats that are easy to use and control can help save thousands in utility bills.
- Moisture – Pipes and HVAC systems should be regularly inspected to prevent leaks or moisture buildup in ceilings or floors.
- Dust & Pests – Dust and dander can build up in offices naturally, because of pests and even computers. Regularly sweeping and vacuuming floors can help keep offices clean.
- Safety & Security – Every building should be outfitted with basic security measures to keep people safe no matter the situation. Security cameras pointed at front and back doors can prevent burglary or undesirable behavior. Fire escapes should be easily accessible from any floor. Building managers must implement a clear safety plan in the event of an emergency.
- Water quality – Water fountains and running water taps should meet the U.S. National Drinking Standards to control microbes and maintain adequate water flow.
- Noise -Traffic and construction noise can be a major deterrent to office productivity. Sealed doors and windows, as well as thick walls, should keep noise out.
- Lighting and Views – Lighting can make the difference between pleasant work experience and a pounding migraine. Lights should be energy efficient, set at a comfortable level, and glare-free. Windows and skylights can also draw natural light in, which in turn can boost mood and morale.
When architects and building managers design with these 9 elements in mind, the result is a workspace that people can feel safe in. These can do wonders for each employee’s work experience, mentally and physically.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Personal protective equipment, also known as PPE, refers to equipment that helps protect the user from illnesses or hazards in the workplace. According to the FDA, these can include “clothing, helmets, gloves, face shields, goggles, facemasks and/or other equipment.” In 2020, PPE is especially important for essential workers and the elderly (since they are most likely to contract the coronavirus).
The importance of PPE
PPE can protect workers in dangerous situations, whether it’s falling debris or an exposed wire. However, in 2020, PPE has come to mean any protective equipment that someone can wear to prevent the transmission or spread of the coronavirus. Most commonly PPE refers to face masks or shields.
Since the 2020 coronavirus is spread via droplets, face masks can simultaneously protect the wearer from droplets in the air, as well as protect other bystanders from potential transmission.
They also act as a symbol of caution in areas with high traffic and lack of social distancing.
Is the use of gloves recommended?
Unlike face masks, other PPE such as gloves should only be worn by patients and medical professionals. In some situations, the improper disposal of gloves can actually contribute to the spread of illness.
How long is PPE necessary
It is unclear how long the general public should wear PPE. Each state will have its own response and health recommendation. Companies should formulate their own policy in accordance with the national and local guidelines. For the foreseeable future, it’s a best practice to have PPE available with you whenever you visit somewhere where social distancing is not possible.
Over the coming months, Novel Coworking will continue to make important changes to our processes and environment to ensure the utmost safety of our visitors. Already, we have increased our sanitation staff and the frequency of our cleaning services, as well as instituted social distancing throughout shared spaces.
Have a question or a suggestion? Reach out to us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or LinkedIn to get in touch with our team.
Of all the ways to improve the look and feel of your office, one of the most impactful solutions is also the most simple: indoor plants.
Let’s face it: if you’re working from home or in the office, you’re seldom outside. Adding some greenery to your workspace will only reduce stress, boost productivity, and improve your overall well-being.
Why are plants good to have in the office?
Indoor plants can enrich both our environment as well as our everyday life. Here are a few reasons why:
1. They help beautify the scenery
The clearest benefit of an indoor plant is that it enhances your working environment. An office can be a dull and gray setting, but a single potted plant can bring vibrancy to an entire room. It adds much needed color, life, and nature to the workplace.
2. They boost productivity
You may be surprised to learn that plants can also boost workplace productivity! A 2014 study done by a team of psychologists from Exeter University found that by incorporating even a few indoor plants in the workspace helped employees become more productive by as much as 15%. Those who took part in the study felt better and more energized which easily translated into their performance by helping with memory retention and productivity.
3. They produce cleaner air
A team of researchers from Purdue University’s Living Labs found that humans and ventilation systems impact the quality of indoor air more than any other source. Without proper ventilation, workers can become unproductive or develop severe health issues. Plants can counteract poor ventilation by producing oxygen. Having a good number of plants around each room is guaranteed to improve the overall air quality. In fact, a study conducted by NASA has found that plants indoors reduce nearly 90% of toxins in the air.
4. They make people happier
Plants can elevate one’s mood, plain and simple. It’s no small wonder then that tech giants like Google, Facebook, and Uber incorporate greenery in their famous office campuses. Just one glance at a plant, and we immediately feel more content and more human again.
Our recommended office plants
While there are countless varieties of indoor plants, some are better suited for the office than others. Here are some of the best office plants you may want to have in your office.
Potted Plants For Your Desk
- Aloe vera
The aloe vera is a short-stemmed plant that has thick, green, fleshy leaves that spring out from its central stem. This species of plant is commonly found in a multitude of consumer products such as skin lotion, beverages, and ointments due to its therapeutic properties. Having an aloe vera plant on your desk is an excellent plant to start out with due to its form and low maintenance care.
There is a wide variety of plants that are considered to be succulents. Succulents in general have thick leaves used to retain water in arid climates and harsh soil. These types of plants are extremely low maintenance, only occasionally needing water. In fact, too much watering can actually cause succulents to rot.
Some common and popular succulents that would be perfect for your desk are the Echeveria ‘Black Prince’, Chalk dudleya, Kalanchoe tomentosa, Butterworts, and Crassula ovata or more commonly known as the jade plant.
- Peace lilies
Peace lilies have broad, wide, thick green leaves that grow small beautiful white flowers when properly taken care of. One of the easiest plants to take care of, a peace lily does not need sunlight and can thrive in artificial office light. After just a few weeks of low light and the occasional water, you soon start to see the flower grow. As a low maintenance, adaptable houseplant, a peace lily is perfect for busy office workers that have an interest in plants./’
- The Chlorophytum comosum or spider plant
One of the most adaptable houseplants and easy to tend. This plant can tolerate all levels of light so you don’t have to worry about making sure this plant is beside a window or lamp. It’s a top pick for residents in a studio loft or apartment as the aesthetic is simple and adapts well to various interior styles.
- The Dracaena marginata or dragon tree
Despite the name, this plant isn’t actually a tree but still a long-lasting plant to have in the corner of a room. It isn’t too intrusive as the stem and leaves of this plant tends to grow more vertically compared to most indoor plants. Its leaves are long and narrow, with a hint of red along the edges. They are considered strong and drought-tolerant, which is an ideal trait for indoor plants.
- Sansevieria trifasciata or snake plant
This plant also grows vertically with thicker leaves. Considered to be one of the most tolerant plants, the snake plant can survive weeks without water and still come out looking fresh and healthy. This is perfect for busy individuals that may not have the time to do proper research in plant care. It also helps that this plant is easy to incorporate in almost all aesthetics.
Ideal tall office plants
- Ficus elastica or rubber plant
A popular plant for those with a bit more space to spare. With proper care, these plants are able to grow tall and produce beautiful leaves with a waxy texture and a rubber-like appearance, hence the name. This is a great plant for those working at home looking to try and grow a plant.
- The Ficus lyrata or fiddle-leaf fig
The most popular house plant amongst enthusiasts. It is the poster child for luxurious homes in movies and magazines. A simple but elegant plant, the fiddle-leaf fig is a must for those who want to add a bit of class in their workspace. However, make sure to place this plant near windows as it needs sunlight to grow.
Bamboo doesn’t come up nearly as much as other plant suggestions, but it can be just as beautiful and energizing. Bamboos need ample amounts of indirect sunlight to stay healthy. However, too much sunlight could end up burning the plant. Otherwise, this is a great plant to have, and even pair with other plants like the bonsai tree.
For first-time plant parents, check out the Devil’s Ivy, Japanese Sago, and Chamaedorea. These plants have varying degrees of maintenance but generally easy to care for. The Devil’s Ivy is perfect for extremely busy professionals as it’s highly unlikely to rot from neglect. The Japanese Sago and Chamaedorea generally need adequate sunlight and a regular watering cycle. These two are good for those trying out a routine of plant care.
Office plant considerations
When choosing a plant, make sure to take into account certain allergies that might get triggered. It’s alright if you have to return a plant if you find out that you or your coworkers have a negative reaction to certain plants. Make sure to check with your doctor exactly what is triggering and maybe you can find a better alternative plant for you.
While plants can be inexpensive, be sure to consider the costs involved. Not only with the initial purchase of the plant, but you’ll also have to consider water and soil expenses as well. You also have your vase or pot to think about. Make sure to plan ahead and treat plant ownership as sort of like a pet that has needs and wants.
How to care for your office plant
Caring for your office plant is all about careful research, and if you’ve gotten this far, you’re already on the right path.
Each type of plant has its own water requirements that you must follow. A watering cycle is also needed for most plants, even the low maintenance ones. Some would need a quick spray once in a while. Others might need a good amount every couple of days. In order for your plant to keep you healthy, you have to keep your plant healthy as well. Check online to ensure you’re never over or underwatering your plants.
Placement is important to consider to ensure your plant gets an ample amount of sunlight, usually by a window, in a garden, or on a green roof. If this is too difficult, choose a plant that will thrive in the shade, like the Devil’s Ivy.
Finally, fertilizer provides much-needed nutrients for your plants. There two types of fertilizer, namely mineral and organic. Each one has a purpose and different fertilizers are required by different plants. Once you’ve picked out a plant, make sure to research its needs to keep it healthy and looking green.
Overall, remember to check on your plants frequently, and pay attention to how they react to the amount of sunlight and water you give them. It may take a few weeks to notice, but it’ll pay off in the long run.
Looking for some more tips on office space planning? Check out our post here. And if you’re looking for more ideas on going green, read this list too.
Twenty-four-hour electric use, excessive HVAC requirements, and liberal energy consumption… These are just a few reasons why offices leave such a significant carbon footprint. Based on figures from the EPA, over 1.5 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions could be recovered if every office product purchased in the U.S. was ENERGY STAR certified.
Every business and person in America has a responsibility to care for the environment. Regardless of one’s status or line of work, there are ways in which each of us can work to make our offices greener and more sustainable.
Sustainability tips for employees
1. Form a sustainability team
Sustainability starts by cultivating an eco-friendly mindset; this is a culture-level discussion. Almost everyone would like to reverse the tides of climate change, but few have the discipline or agency to take the initiative. Developing a green team, a group of employees willing to create and act on sustainable strategies can be the beginning of a much larger movement.
Survey team members to see which employees have a passionate stance on green issues, and start organizing actionable steps together. The camaraderie formed from a group will help you avoid the feeling of helplessness and inspire you to action.
2. Encourage everyone to buy reusable water bottles
UN Environment, an environment program developed by the United Nations, estimates that one million plastic drinking bottles are purchased every minute. Most of these bottles will end up in landfills or major water sources. The fact is that such waste can be avoided with a single purchase.
On Amazon, you can choose from hundreds of water bottle models in different colors. Some have vacuum insulation to keep the temperature just right, and others have time markers to remind you to stay hydrated at every hour. Check out Amazon’s article on the best water bottles to find one you’ll keep refilling.
Source: One Green Planet
3. Institute a Work From Home policy
Depending on the nature of your business, your employees may not be required to come into the office physically. Companies with online businesses, such as marketers or web developers, can allow employees to stay home certain days of the week. Not only will this boost workplace morale and well-being, but it can also heavily reduce the company footprint in terms of electricity and transportation. Be sure to read our previous post on tips for working remotely.
4. Seek an alternative form of transportion to work
Nothing contributes to a high carbon footprint more than a car. Though not all of us can afford an electric vehicle, there are other options available that limit our transportation impact. The most popular alternative is to take public transit, such as a train or bus. Commuter benefits also include significant savings— the cost of taking a bus is significantly less than the collective cost of car insurance, gas, and parking.
You may also consider a brisk bike to work if you live nearby, doubling as both an energy-efficient transport and a convenient form of exercise. If a colleague lives nearby or on the way, you may agree to carpool to work, minimizing your collective carbon footprint.
5. Invest in more energy-efficient office products
Although it seems more costly to purchase energy-efficient equipment, the savings can pay for the investment in the long run. LED Televisions, for example, have an annual energy cost of roughly $3-$16, a fraction of the price for non-efficient screens. ENERGY STAR offers a list of its most efficient products in 2019, ranging from air conditioners to washing machines.
Sustainability tips for the office
Employers and building managers also have a responsibility to design an environment that promotes green habits. Sustainable actions such as recycling should be simple, not a chore. Here are a few ways to create more environmentally friendly offices.
1. Set up an office recycling program
Recycling is still one of the most effective ways to divert waste from landfills. Speak with your waste hauler and janitorial team to assess your recycling options. You may need to purchase recycling bins or compost bins to place in high-traffic areas. Update your tenants on responsible recycling habits (separate compost from trash, use less paper). Over time, you will notice a cleaner, more green-minded office culture.
2. Install water bottle filling stations
Novel Coworking offices are outfitted with Elkay filtered ezH20 bottle filling stations, which simultaneously reduce lead and particulates while reducing plastic bottle count. A counter above the spout shows how many bottles have been saved by the single machine. Filling stations are convenient for employees with bottles or glasses and significantly reduce plastic waste.
3. Implement energy-efficient lighting and devices
Cut back on your power consumption with smarter tech. Consider installing light fixtures that use LED lightbulbs, which according to the Department of Energy, “use at least 75% less energy, and last 25 times longer than incandescent lighting.” This also makes them much more cost-efficient in the long run. You may also want to utilize natural light by installing new windows or rearranging furniture.
For other devices, consider getting a smart power strip. Compared to traditional power strips, smart power strips prevent your devices from draining power even when they’re off. Experts believe they save about 5-10% of energy consumption (though stats vary). The Smart Power Strip WiFi Power Bar, for example, is remote and voice-controlled, allowing you to adjust which electronics turn on even when you’re not at home.
4. Shop local stores and suppliers
The carbon footprint of a supply chain isn’t something you think about unless you happen to work in supply chain management or distribution. Consider the bulk purchases of paper by a print company. Not only do they pay for the paper, but they also pay for the delivery of the product, usually from overseas. Whenever possible, see if you can source raw materials from nearby companies. On one hand, you’re supporting local businesses, and on the other, you are rejecting major supply chains with excessive carbon emissions.
5. Calculate your carbon footprint and set targets each year
Without an accurate understanding of how your building uses energy, you can’t gauge whether your efforts are improving or hurting your overall business. Whether you’re a freelancer or run a business, the first step is to use a carbon footprint calculator. They are free and easy to use, allowing you to set initial goals. Once you figure out your footprint, consult your green team about developing a target for the year using the SMART goals principle.
These steps are only the beginning. As with any major sustainability effort, the best results arise when everyone works together. Do not expect quick wins or praise for installing a few LED bulbs or recycling bins. The more important aspect is to develop a green mindset— one that continuously seeks to improve the workplace environment in terms of its global impact.
Work can be a stressful experience, but for some, the stress of work comes from its social aspect. Working with difficult team members or managers, networking with strangers at events, or dealing with demanding customers can bring about an intense feeling of fear and anxiety. Consequently, the usual work stress is compounded with the pressure to be accepted, leading to poor performance and a negative career outlook.
By identifying the symptoms and underlying causes of social anxiety disorder at work, one can learn to stop worrying about the minor details and cultivate more fruitful and authentic relationships in the workplace.
What is social anxiety?
The Social Anxiety Association’s definition of social anxiety disorder: “the fear of social situations that involve interaction with other people.” Unlike general shyness, social anxiety refers to a more chronic, intense fear of judgment that can even affect other aspects of life. Without proper guidance and therapy, social anxiety can not only linger but worsen over time.
How many people suffer from social anxiety?
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety disorder affects roughly 15 million American adults, making it the second most common anxiety disorder diagnosis.
Is social anxiety a medical condition?
First, it’s important to understand the meaning of the term “medical condition.” Some sources (such as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or DSM) believe that medical conditions refer to everything except mental illnesses. Others believe the term “medical condition” generally applies to any disease, disorder, or wound.
Because social anxiety is a mental health condition, there are a few who will not consider it as serious of an issue as a physical health condition. It’s important to remember that the brain is like any other organ of the body—it requires proper attention and care; otherwise, the rest of the body may suffer.
Social anxiety in the workplace
Now consider the typical workplace from the perspective of someone with a social anxiety disorder. Offices can be busy, raucous environments: from the ringing phones and clicking keyboards to the hour-long meetings that you dread. You may even deal with other people frequently—whether fielding a customer complaint or preparing a performance review of a subordinate, it can be a lot for anyone.
By asking yourself, “what are the triggers of social anxiety at work?”, you are training yourself to better identify and prevent or mitigate their effects on you. Here are just a few examples.
– Meetings and public speaking – We live in a world of services and communications, which means that you are bound to speak in front of an audience or to a third party at one point.
– Due dates and overload – While not strictly speaking a social interaction, you may feel indirect anxiety from promising too much to different people.
– Anxiety at a new job – Everyone experiences a sort of anxiety when transitioning to a new position. Without an understanding of the daily process and no real connection to the people you work with, there are a lot of uncertainties and unanswered questions.
– Performance reviews and evaluations – Monthly or quarterly, your company may choose to provide feedback on your ongoing work performance. While it can be helpful or useful for some, others may feel uncomfortable being criticized or compared.
While at work, keep a tab on your overall energy and mood. If you notice it dip during some parts of the day, ask yourself what may have triggered that response. Developing this awareness may take some time and training to accomplish. Still, it will become important in identifying which aspects of your work contribute to unsustainable levels of stress or anxiety.
How to deal with social anxiety at work
Training yourself to spot the anxiety triggers is one thing, but actively finding ways to deal with it is another. Fortunately, you have several healthy options when it comes to alleviating the stresses of social anxiety.
1. Trace the source of your anxiety
Do you have a major presentation to give to the company shareholders? Do you dread having to talk to your supervisor? Or is there something else going on, not even related to the work itself? Identifying the main reason for anxiety is a lot harder than it sounds, but doing so can grant you strength over your mind. It can also help you to understand that it’s a natural feeling to be overwhelmed or stressed, particularly in the workplace.
2. Recognize your triggers
We discussed some of the causes of social anxiety, but you must uncover personal triggers within your workplace. Some triggers (such as loud environments) can be controlled and dealt with practically (such as a change of settings).
3. Challenge thoughts of negativity
Comparing yourself to someone else, imagining what other people think, fearing what may happen in the future… these are all human tendencies that invite unnecessary mental strife. Whenever possible, catch yourself during these moments, and realize that they are only thoughts. With practice, you can change how you react to distressing thoughts.
If it helps, try a few meditation practices at work. So many of our problems can be overcome by simply stopping for a few minutes to breathe.
4. Adopt positive changes to your work routine
Just as other diseases are treatable with the appropriate medication, social anxiety is controllable with the right lifestyle adjustments. Take small breaks after 40-50 minutes of uninterrupted work. If you’re required to speak publicly, create new ways to prepare for presentations, through rehearsals or cue cards. If you’re comfortable, share your struggles with someone close to you at work. The ability to discuss it with a colleague may help you feel less alone in facing the problem.
5. Be patient yet positive
Don’t expect your life to change within a matter of days. As with other mental health illnesses, these treatments take time and perseverance. There will be days where many of these tips won’t feel as if they make any difference. But take it one day at a time, shifting focus to small wins along the way. Each day brings a new opportunity to be better and to try again.
Resources & tools for combatting social anxiety
This isn’t the first time we’ve recommended the meditation app, Headspace, and it won’t be the last either. With daily guided meditations for concentration, motivation, and of course, anxiety release, you won’t find many other meditation apps that are as rich and intuitive as the Headspace app.
Insight Timer is a totally free app for helping with one’s sleep, anxiety, and stress. In addition to soothing ambient soundscapes, Insight Timer also offers talks and guided meditation, whether it’s for forgiveness and letting go, or learning to appreciate the world in front of you. If you want more, Insight Timer offers a premium membership with exclusive courses from leading figures and features like offline listening.
For individuals that suffer from severe social anxiety or panic attacks, Rootd is the app for you. More than a simple education app (although there are some useful lessons), Rootd acts like a virtual friend that helps you work through particularly intense thoughts and feelings.
Formerly known as Pacifica, Sanvello assists those with stress, anxiety, and depression. Sanvello is based on a combination of CBT or cognitive behavioral therapy and mindful meditation. Sanvello offers a multitude of relaxation techniques, from peaceful soundscapes to positive visualization. The developers of Sanvello work closely with therapists, doctors, and researchers to deliver a safe and effective experience.
Calm is another simply designed meditation app that assists with anything from reducing stress and anxiety to improving performance and increasing happiness. The app features a variety of different soundscapes, mindfulness courses, and breathing exercises. The only catch? It will set you back $60 per year after the 7-day trial is up, making it one of the more premium options on this list.
Social anxiety has only become more prevalent in the west, particularly with the countless distractions that pervade our online channels and the general media. It has become even more imperative that we take the time to spot anxiety before it worsens, to take the necessary precautions in treating it, and care for others afflicted by anxiety or similar mental health issues. A significant part of our life is spent at work, so we each hold a responsibility to make it as safe and stress-free for everyone as much as we can.
Few exchanges cause more anxiety than confrontation in the workplace. Scarier still is navigating such situations when it’s your toxic boss who needs confronting. A myriad of questions arise: Will I be supported if I confront my superior? How will they react? Will I lose my job? Is it even that bad? Is my boss really “toxic”? According to studies, three out of every ten leaders are, in fact, toxic, making these insatiable leaders rampant among the workplace.
Still, even with such a staggering percentage, how do you know if your boss is actually “toxic,” rather than just a bad fit for your particular work style? Let us explore the problems of toxic leadership, how one can identify it, and take action in the workplace.
What is toxic leadership?
Toxic leaders “consistently use dysfunctional behaviors to deceive, intimidate, coerce, or unfairly punish others to get what they want for themselves.” In other words, they’re bullies with the power to remove you from your livelihood.
The problem with this style of leadership is the environment it creates. It breeds instability, corrupts creativity, and undermines free will.
What is the toxic triangle?
The “toxic triangle” is a term used by researchers to define the perfect storm of toxicity in the workplace. It is composed of three main factors:
– Toxic leaders: managers or executives with autocratic, narcissistic, and otherwise manipulative tendencies
– Susceptible followers: includes conformers (crave direction) and colluders (crave power).
– Conducive environment: a culture with questionable values, standards, and safeguards.
For a company to protect its people, it must keep in mind these three factors of toxicity.
Main characteristics of toxic leadership
What specific characteristics does a toxic leader have? Below is a “toxic leader checklist” that will help you identify when you see one. Keep in mind, this list is not extensive, and every toxic leader won’t necessarily display every one of these characteristics. Still, these five are particularly pervasive and should be on your radar.
- Absolute power. Toxic leaders desire and feel they deserve, autocracy over their organizations. They are at the top of the heap, and everyone else is far below them. This hierarchy exists to ensure these leaders have their hands in everything so they can control every aspect of the organization’s processes. After all, in their minds, they are the ones that seek dominance over prestige.
- No feedback cycle. Due to their narcissistic attitudes, toxic leaders have an inability to get or give constructive feedback. They are unable to see their faults because they feel they do everything right. As a result, they cannot see their employees clearly either. There is no feedback, only punishment for not following their strict instructions.
- Incompetent. Again due to their inflated egos, toxic leaders don’t typically take the time to learn all the skills required to do their job well. They fail to recognize problems and lack the flexibility needed to solve them (which ironically diminishes authority on their part).
- Ambiguous instructions coupled with unrealistic expectations. Toxic leaders set their employees up for failure. Unsurprisingly, their grandiose ideas of self also apply to their own capabilities and that of their organization. Due to their lack of real skill, they cannot set clear goals for their employees and often end up over-promising and under-delivering.
- Hierarchical in nature. Toxic leaders create an environment of unhealthy competition. They will pit employees against each other and create an inner circle of “true followers.” This hierarchy serves to keep team members “in line,” so everyone knows their place. Usually, within these ranks, toxic leaders single out a scapegoat. Someone disposable but important enough to take the fall when a bad leader’s incompetence catches up to them.
Examples of toxic leadership at the workplace
These characteristics were uncovered in some army generals through a study done by David Matsuda. In attempting to understand the rate at which soldiers were committing suicide, a general invited Professor Matsuda to aide in his investigation. Matsuda discovered that many of the soldiers were under the tyranny of toxic leaders who were intimidating and unfairly punishing them.
Once the investigation started, it was estimated that some 20% of soldiers were reporting to toxic leaders. According to research, the reason this leadership style is so prevalent in the army is because “performance is evaluated in a top-down fashion.” This means soldiers could not assess their superiors, and thus, these toxic leaders were allowed to continue their abusive behavior without being held accountable. The army has taken drastic actions to ensure this problem doesn’t persist. But it is an example of how dangerous it can be when leaders have no accountability to the people they are leading.
Another modern example of a toxic leader given power, in this case, out of desperation, is Al Dunlap, the former CEO of Sunbeam Corporations. In Jean Lipman-Bluman’s book “The Allure of Toxic Leaders,” she describes the company as struggling when it decided to hire Dunlap to shake things up and get them on the right track. Dunlap had fabricated and published stories about his business savvy and success. Sunbeam felt they were being saved from ruin when Dunlap agreed to join the team and helm the ship.
Almost immediately, he began verbally abusing his subordinates. He missed deadlines and was utterly incompetent in his role as CEO. Eventually, his lies caught up to him, but not before he drove the company to financial bankruptcy. Dunlap’s greedy grasp for power and his distorted perception of his capabilities made him a toxic leader. But Sunbeam’s vulnerable state and lack of company culture made them prime pickings for a dictator like Dunlap.
Few stories in recent history have had quite the impact as that of ridesharing service, Uber, and its maligned leadership. In February 2017, software engineer Susan Fowler wrote a 3,000-word blog post detailing her year at Uber: in which a manager had sexually harassed her. Still, Uber’s HR department had refused to take any action, even after receiving similar reports from multiple women.
Fowler’s story sparked a major debate about sexism, harassment, and the unjust use of power in Silicon Valley. Her post was shared over 22,000 times on Twitter, led to multiple contract terminations, and precipitated the resignation of CEO Travis Kalanick. Since her departure at Uber, Fowler has worked as editor-in-chief for Stripe’s quarterly publication, Increment, and now writes as technology opinion editor for The New York Times.
How to deal with toxic leadership
If reading this is setting off alarm bells, you might be working for a toxic leader. After combing through all the characteristics and examples, one might feel anxious about confronting someone so menacing. Yet, according to Lipman-Blueman, the best way to approach a toxic leader is simply to do it. “Confront the fear and worry of challenging a toxic leader. Exercising courage will make you stronger,” she says.
One of the major elements that allow these types of leaders to gain more power is silence, neutrality, and compliance from employees. Breaking this destructive cycle forces bad leadership to be confronted with their ineptitude while simultaneously alerting their superiors of the problem. To ensure a more open and safe environment for everyone, it is vital to exhibit total honesty and courage when providing feedback on abusive work cultures.
Redefine company culture
It is also essential to ensure that once a toxic leader is gone, a revision of the corporate structure that produced such a leader takes place. If company culture lacks a sense of self-awareness, you’re bound to end up under the thumb of another toxic leader. A healthy work environment can only thrive if leadership “nurtures and grows the physiological, psychosocial, and spiritual well-being of its organizational members.” If employees’ welfare isn’t taken seriously, any change in bad leadership will only be temporary.
Set realistic expectations
A huge component in shifting company culture is redefining success. While it is important to set and accomplish goals, how they are achieved is crucial. Toxic leaders will realize goals by any means necessary, even at the expense of their employees’ health. Good leaders will set realistic goals and expectations and will never ask employees to sacrifice their physical or mental well-being to meet deadlines.
Lead with integrity
To actualize a well-defined company culture, it is imperative to promote leaders who are optimistic yet realistic. A healthy leader will inspire their employees, not intimidate them. They will create an environment that thrives on effective feedback and will be open to hearing how they can improve. Good leaders recognize they can’t do it all and will be willing to delegate tasks. All employees will be treated equally because leaders with integrity don’t play favorites.
Within this type of environment, studies show employees work harder and are happier to come in every day. When support starts at the top and is felt throughout, it motivates everyone to do their best. And with that support comes a kind of creativity that only happens when one is truly free.
All around us, an invisible workplace revolution is taking place. From stay-at-home parents and caregivers to students and entrepreneurs, many are choosing to work from home or places other than their main office. Remote working has become so popular that some estimate it to be the new U.S. workforce majority.
While flexibility is commonly cited as a positive of remote working, there are some challenges too, like the sense of isolation. In Buffer’s State of Work 2018 report, loneliness was cited as the biggest struggle in remote work.
Here’s how you can avoid feeling down and alone even when you’re not at the office.
Remember that you are not alone
First and foremost, it’s vital to remember that you’re never alone in your struggles. Other remote workers have been through similar situations as you. Don’t be afraid to join Slack groups for remote workers or similar communities for guidance. Lean on your friends and family for strength and inspiration too.
If you are in need of immediate help services or emotional support, please consider calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255). This is a toll-free hotline available 24/7 in the United States. They also have an online chat that allows you to message a responder confidentially.
Identifying your personality needs
You’ve likely taken a personality test before. Perhaps it was through Facebook or while you were in school. But as a remote worker, these personality tests take on a different meaning. Not only can they describe your strengths and weaknesses. They can also reveal common workplace habits and career paths.
To determine whether you are more of an introvert or extrovert, consider using the 16Personalities test, which is based on the Myers-Briggs personality theory. As well, you’ll learn other important assessments of your character.
Of course, these tests must be taken with a grain of salt — they are not always developed with validity or reliability in mind. For example, the results you receive one day may not be the same as the results given on another, depending on your response. Despite some flaws, these tests can help steer you towards a better understanding of yourself.
How to beat remote work isolation
Perhaps the most difficult obstacle of a remote worker is the sense of isolation at home. Without any coworkers or peers to talk to, your work experience may feel extremely lonely.
Fortunately, you can combat that feeling. Here are a few suggestions:
Use effective communication technology
Chances are you’ve already used instant messaging or video conferencing. Make it a habit to use these tools to communicate with your team regularly. Hold meetings via Zoom or a similar conference software. Phone calls may suffice. But video can bring people closer, revealing nuances like facial expressions and body language. Similarly, an instant message can convey a greater sense of presence and availability than email.
Hold daily check-in calls
Every morning, have a quick five-minute check-in. This will serve to update the team on what you’re working on and help you learn about what the rest of the team is doing. These quick calls can highlight opportunities for collaboration or let others know that you need support. Check-ins only last a few minutes but can have a significant impact on your connection with the team.
Send end-of-week updates
On a similar note, weekly updates help your team gauge your overall progress and offer help when necessary. As a remote worker, you can feel increasingly isolated when you do not communicate the work you do to the rest of the team. By scheduling time each week to reflect on the previous week, you can feel closer to the overall mission and operations of the company.
How coworking can help with loneliness
Just as remote working has caught on, so too has coworking, which is a popular option for remote workers across the country. Coworking offers entrepreneurs, small businesses, and enterprises an affordable workspace, various amenities, and a friendly community to take part in. It can also be an effective way to deal with the loneliness of remote work.
A boost in productivity
From loud family members to comfy beds, the work-from-home experience can feel like a minefield of distractions. Coworking spaces, however, are designed for work collaborations in mind. A quick walk through a coworking space will highlight many of the productivity-enhancing features, such as dedicated desks, conference rooms, phone booths, printing and fax machines, and much more.
A sense of community
Coworking is centered around the philosophy that people work better together. Throughout many coworking spaces, you’ll notice people collaborating on projects, chatting over coffee, or socializing more freely than in a corporate environment. Novel Coworking spaces frequently host networking events, lunch and learns, game nights, and other community events, drawing attendees from the building and around the neighborhood.
An opportunity to network
Innovative products and ideas can quickly arise when two entrepreneurial minds meet. Coworking spaces tear down the walls that divide people from different businesses or departments. This results in some truly unique collaborations. We’ve seen career coaches, lawyers, agencies, and other businesses find clients right from the coworking floor.
How to beat loneliness at home
Working from home may be your only option. While some of the tips below overlap with general advice for beating remote work isolation, use them to optimize your home office work experience.
Develop an unconventional schedule
The highlight of any remote worker is the ability to set hours, within reason, of course. While we don’t recommend working late into the night, you also don’t have set 9-5 hours. So take advantage of the flexible schedule afforded to you by your work. Work on the weekends, evenings, or early mornings. Then rest, eat, go outside, or do something else in-between hours.
Explore the outdoors
Get out of the house whenever you can! Staying indoors is a guaranteed path to feeling trapped, stuck, and isolated. Between major work hours, find the time to step outside or walk your dog. Further split up the day with some grocery shopping or anything else that will get you up and moving. Studies have also shown that sunlight can be a major factor in one’s happiness. So push yourself to go out during the day when you can.
Make some calls
Staying in touch with people via Slack or text message isn’t as personal or immediate as a phone call. Just hearing someone’s voice or laughter can give us a sense of connection that can’t be conveyed with an emoji or in 140 characters. Whenever possible, call your coworkers or schedule a meeting instead of writing it out in a message. Not only will it be clearer and more efficient, but it can also feel a lot more like being in the office.
The same applies to personal calls. With so much to do in the day, we can easily forget to make time for ourselves and our loved ones. Try to schedule time in the day to reach out and connect with a family member or friend, even for a few minutes. It will make a world of difference for your mindset.
Remote work represents a new and exciting way to work in the 21st century. But for those unaccustomed to the way of remote working, the experience can be overwhelming. Remote workers must take additional care not only to stay on top of various projects but also to take care of their mental health. And a large part of one’s mental well-being involves meaningful social interaction.
Looking for more advice on the remote working experience? Check out these general tips.