From new guidelines for essential front-line workers to stay-at-home orders for other employees, the COVID-19 pandemic is bringing about new changes and challenges across organizations. For many Training and HR professionals, one of the top challenges is to ensure that employees, many of whom are working remotely for the first time, do not engage in harassing and discriminatory behavior while working in a more casual environment, with more frequent online interaction with colleagues and others.
During these unpredictable times, a modern, online training program that is mobile optimized and accessible to employees and managers 24/7 is an important step in reinforcing the right behaviors and maintaining a respectful, inclusive workplace culture.
And while this pandemic has slowed business activity for many organizations, it’s also created an opportunity to get ahead of upcoming compliance training deadlines (six states now require sexual harassment training) and offer additional courses on relevant workplace topics.
As you develop remote-work policies and make other adjustments to the “new normal,” these four training topics can support your efforts to keep employees and managers focused on positive behaviors and actions during COVID-19 and beyond:
1. Preventing harassment and discrimination
Unfortunately, the Coronavirus pandemic has resulted in discrimination, bullying, and social stigma against people of Asian descent, people who have traveled, emergency responders, and healthcare workers. EEOC Chair Janet Dhillon recently posted a message urging employers and employees to be aware of instances of harassment, intimidation, or discrimination and to take action to prevent or correct this behavior. “Our collective efforts to create respectful workplaces for all our nation’s workers, even during these trying times, will enable us to emerge from this crisis stronger and more united,” she notes.
The message should be clear to employees that standards of professional conduct don’t change when they’re interacting in live chats or on videoconferences. Texting sexual images, excluding certain people from team chats, and making negative comments on social media are just a few real-world examples of behaviors training can address—reinforcing what is and isn’t acceptable behavior.
2. Bystander intervention and allyship
Bystander intervention training is another way to raise awareness of inappropriate behavior and prevent future incidents—whether they occur in-person or online. Knowing how to safely intervene enables bystanders to speak up against sexual harassment or other inappropriate actions, and show support and empathy to co-workers, who may feel even more isolated. Workplace experts agree that encouraging allyship can have a positive influence on creating a more diverse and inclusive culture.
3. Workplace civility and respect
An effective workplace harassment program also should encompass civility and respect—important concepts that take on a new relevance when work-family routines are upended. This video provides some helpful guidelines for keeping workplace behaviors respectful during the Coronavirus. Employees who feel respected tend to be healthier, more focused, more likely to stay with their organizations, and far more engaged in their work, according to Christine Porath, author and professor of management at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.
4. Data privacy and information security
Training employees on how to protect confidential and sensitive information also should be part of remote-worker initiatives. Hackers are exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic and targeting businesses and employees by hijacking Zoom meetings and sending out phishing e-mails posing as officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization. Effective information security training should provide examples of different types of phishing, malware, and ransom attacks; explain the risks of using public networks; and highlight best practices for protecting devices and keeping company data and systems secure.
COVID-19 is causing many changes and disruptions in organizations across almost every industry. However, the pandemic should not undermine an organization’s values, principles, and standards of conduct. A modern, online training program that reflects your industry and work environment is an important component in addressing and preventing harassment and discrimination and strengthening workplace culture during these unsettling times and beyond.