How Office Workers Are (Accidentally) Bullying Remote Workers

remote work bully

Bullies are easy to despise. Loud. Blustering. Obnoxious. Willing to do or say anything to get their way. Especially in movies, these heels are easy to root against and we cheer when the hero overcomes a small-minded jerk. But in the workplace, this kind of behavior is more nuanced. Remote workers know this all too well — as they are often subjected to unfair treatment by in-office colleagues.

Is it hyperbole to say that some office workers are bullying remote teammates (maybe without even knowing it)? Not really.

Plenty of research proves the point. In one recent study, remote workers reported feeling left out and even ganged up on by in-office teammates. Remote workers were also more likely than on-site workers to think their colleagues say bad things behind their back or change projects without looping them in.

Of course, this study just reported how the remote workers feel. We cannot assume that the office teammates are intentionally mistreating them. More likely, the on-site workers do not understand the remote experience and do not realize the effects of their behavior.

Office workers may not be bullying remote workers intentionally. But exclusionary actions do keep people from being their best and contributing everything they can to the team’s success.

Ouch — paranoid, dejected, thwarted from doing good work. No one should feel this way.

Unfortunately, in today’s office-centric environment where some remote work is permitted, but not the norm, it can create an “us vs. them” mentality — within the same company. The simplest way to avoid this perception of a two-class system is to have everybody work remotely like we do at Aha!

Obviously, this is not possible for most companies that are already office-bound. But let’s imagine it were so. When everyone works remotely, you are able to communicate in the same manner through the same channels. Nobody gets excluded for not being in the same room with the main group.

Whether you are the remote worker feeling left out or an office worker realizing you might be part of the problem, there are plenty of things you can do though to be more inclusive and ensure that everyone is involved in key decisions.  

Here are a few ways to start:

Use collaborative tools
People like to use tools they are comfortable with. Makes sense, right? But a BYOS (bring your own software) approach can cause problems at any company. Remote workers are disproportionately left out of the loop when work is done across different tools. Getting people on the same collaborative platforms and programs gives equal transparency to all teammates. You can help by gently nudging people back towards the agreed-upon tool and workflow when people go “rogue” and start funneling projects through email or instant messages.  

Hold meetings over video
Have you ever joined a meeting by phone, when most folks are together in a room — and not been able to hear what is happening or worse, felt ignored? People tend to speak to the in-person audience and forget those who are not in front of them. If you see someone has scheduled a phone call when remote teammates will be attending, request a video meeting instead. This benefits both sides — you are able to pick up on important body language and facial cues, like reading somebody’s feelings just from subtle shifts.

Open up conversations
Sometimes private communication is necessary. But if the topic is not sensitive or proprietary, why keep it a secret? When you get a 1:1 communication that could benefit from more voices, encourage your teammate to start open threads in your company’s chat app or post the questions and answers to internal forums. This gives remote workers the chance to participate and benefit from the exchange of knowledge — especially those teammates in different time zones who can jump into the conversation later.

Be responsive
You send a question to a colleague via email. In return, you get… silence. Remote workers do not have the option of walking over to their teammate’s desk to follow up. (Did they not get your message? Are they just busy? Or are they rudely ignoring you?) It is so easy to avoid the potential hurt feelings that come with lack of communication. Just give a prompt reply when you can, or send a quick “I got your request — let me get back to you,” when you cannot. This is not only courteous, it promotes feelings of trust, inclusiveness, and teamwork.

Remote work comes with tremendous advantages. Being left out should not be the price you pay, though.

When some team members work from HQ and others work remotely, the key is for everyone to pay extra attention to promoting an inclusive culture. And it is not all on individual team members — it starts with the leadership team and how they work.

Nobody wants to be left out. And nobody really wants to be viewed as a bully, either. Empathy, understanding, and communication leave no room for workplace menace.

How do you ensure everyone feels included at work?

About Brian and Aha!

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 roadmap software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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  1. Gloria Metrick

    Most of my projects are remote, whether I’m leading the team, a team member, or both. I’ve noticed that teams that are responsive have good team leaders/managers/project managers who make it clear that team members will work together. It’s not a one-time statement that they need to make but an ongoing commitment to make it clear that all team members need each other.

    For leaders who aren’t certain how things are going, the other issue is that you can’t just ask if team members are having this problem. Some team members don’t want to be “mean” to the others and tattle on them. Instead, listen carefully at team meetings. When you’re asking your team why they’re not getting things done and they say they don’t have all the tools or information, you will occasionally notice that previous meetings directed them to ask other team members. That’s your clue that this is possibly one of the issues with your team.


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