TechDigits

Tech news
Saturday, Dec 09, 2023

The perks and perils of remote-work gossip

The perks and perils of remote-work gossip

In remote- and hybrid-work settings, the watercooler whisper to colleagues has been digitised. But spilling all online can be risky.

While some might associate workplace gossip with a toxic office culture, many studies show its benefits: confiding in colleagues can deepen trust and improve mental health. And though a quick grumble about a bad manager may be harder when employees no longer share an office, our innate need to seek – and share – information about others persists in the pandemic era of hybrid work. In fact, office gossip has become a crucial means of connection for many employees in virtual work arrangements.

“We’re the descendants of busybodies,” says Frank McAndrew, professor of psychology at Knox College in Illinois, US. “It was in our ancestors’ interests to know what everyone else was doing in order to be socially successful – to find out who they could and couldn’t trust.”

However, the current reality of hybrid work has made the normal channels of office gossip – watercooler whispers and desk-side chats – more difficult. A new era of workplace surveillance and digital communication has raised the stakes around venting about a boss or other colleagues. More than ever, workers now run the risk of having their complaints monitored by suspicious bosses, something most people would like to avoid amid the current rounds of layoffs.

“As soon as technology is involved, the risk of gossiping is amplified,” says McAndrew. “More bad things can happen more quickly.”

Even in light of these concerns, many employees will continue sharing information and opinions to socialize and stay up to date on office politics with their colleagues.

Hybrid work has made the normal channels of office gossip – watercooler whispers and desk-side chats – more difficult.


“It’s the grapevine effect,” explains Ronald Placone, associate teaching professor of business-management communication at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, in Pittsburgh, US. “In most organisations, the demand for information is greater than supply: if there’s talk of impending layoffs but leadership remains silent, you can expect gossip to fill the void.”

But with more employees practising flexible working arrangements, there are fewer opportunities to gossip – at least via traditional means. “Not only are people less likely to be physically working together, but there is also less to observe when you’re working remotely from your laptop,” says Placone. “Workplace gossip would be prompted by sitting at the desk and seeing a colleague unexpectedly go into the boss’s office: ‘Are they in trouble?’, ‘Are they going for a promotion?’. That source of gossip is largely gone.”

Despite this suppressed flow of information, many workers still feel the need to keep one another in the know. In doing so, they often turn to the same tools they use for their job. “The opportunities to gossip are often on Zoom and Slack,” says Elena Martinescu, a research associate at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. “People may no longer work in the same space as each other, but they still have an ingrained need to share thoughts and observations, and seek information.”

But the same workplace tools that employees use to gossip can also be tracked by employers. More bosses are also surveilling workers through dedicated software: according to consulting firm Gartner, 70% of large US employers will use monitoring tools within the next two years. Sometimes branded ‘bossware’, this technology can log keystrokes, capture screenshots or covertly activate employees’ webcams.

People may no longer work in the same space as each other, but they still have an ingrained need to share thoughts and observations, and seek information – Elena Martinescu


It means workplace gossip is not only more complicated in virtual-work settings – it’s riskier. “Compared to face-to-face conversations, in which tone of voice and non-verbal signals can emphasise sensitive information that shouldn’t be shared, digital communications have fewer nuances,” says McAndrew. “A message can be easily forwarded, misinterpreted and seen by unintended audiences.”

And although a worker may not lose their job for speaking badly of their employer, a disparaging message history might have serious implications down the road. “Compared to face-to-face gossip, there’s a paper trail – making it easier for the employer to trace, and harder for the employee to deny,” says McAndrew. “I suspect that firing isn’t out of the question, but it would have to be a very serious infraction.”

In response, anonymous workplace forums, such as Blind and on Reddit, are flourishing as digital gathering spaces to dish about work. “Although you may not have an annoying boss in the same space as you, you’re still going to experience the same frustrations, anger and anxiety about your job,” says Martinescu. “Going online, and broadcasting your annoyances via a pseudonym, could be the new way of gossiping about work.”

Even in largely hybrid and virtual office environments, many workers will continue to find a way to gossip. “We have an innate desire for information that won't go away,” says McAndrew. “And some people enjoy gossiping: they have a reputation for knowing what’s going on at the company, while being discreet and responsible handling sensitive information – they’re often quite popular.”

Newsletter

Related Articles

TechDigits
Close
0:00
0:00
FTX's Bankman-Fried headed for jail after judge revokes bail
America's First New Nuclear Reactor in Nearly Seven Years Begins Operations
Southeast Asia moves closer to economic unity with new regional payments system
Today Hunter Biden’s best friend and business associate, Devon Archer, testified that Joe Biden met in Georgetown with Russian Moscow Mayor's Wife Yelena Baturina who later paid Hunter Biden $3.5 million in so called “consulting fees”
Google testing journalism AI. We are doing it already 2 years, and without Google biased propoganda and manipulated censorship
Musk announces Twitter name and logo change to X.com
The future of sports
TikTok Takes On Spotify And Apple, Launches Own Music Service
Hacktivist Collective Anonymous Launches 'Project Disclosure' to Unearth Information on UFOs and ETIs
Typo sends millions of US military emails to Russian ally Mali
Server Arrested For Theft After Refusing To Pay A Table's $100 Restaurant Bill When They Dined & Dashed
Democracy not: EU's Digital Commissioner Considers Shutting Down Social Media Platforms Amid Social Unrest
Sarah Silverman and Renowned Authors Lodge Copyright Infringement Case Against OpenAI and Meta
Why Do Tech Executives Support Kennedy Jr.?
The New York Times Announces Closure of its Sports Section in Favor of The Athletic
Florida Attorney General requests Meta CEO's testimony on company's platforms' alleged facilitation of illicit activities
The Poor Man With Money, Mark Zuckerberg, Unveils Twitter Replica with Heavy-Handed Censorship: A New Low in Innovation?
The Double-Edged Sword of AI: AI is linked to layoffs in industry that created it
US Sanctions on China's Chip Industry Backfire, Prompting Self-Inflicted Blowback
Meta Copy Twitter with New App, Threads
BlackRock Bitcoin ETF Application Refiled, Naming Coinbase as ‘Surveillance-Sharing’ Partner
UK Crypto and Stablecoin Regulations Become Law as Royal Assent is Granted
A Delaware city wants to let businesses vote in its elections
Alef Aeronautics Achieves Historic Milestone with Flight Certification for World's First Flying Car
Google Blocked Access to Canadian News in Response to New Legislation
French Politicians Advocate for Pan-European Regulation on Social Media Influencers
Melinda French Gates Advocates for Increased Female Representation in AI to Prevent Bias
Snapchat+ gains 4 million paying subscribers in its first year
Apple Makes History as the First Public Company Valued at $3 Trillion
Elon Musk Implements Twitter Limits to Tackle Data Scraping, but Faces Criticism for Technical Misunderstanding
EU and UK's Slow Electric Vehicle Adoption Raises Questions About the Transition to Green Mobility
Top Companies Express Concerns Over Europe's Proposed AI Law, Citing Competitiveness and Investment Risks
Meta Unveils Insights on AI Usage in Facebook and Instagram, Amid Growing Calls for Transparency
Crypto Scams Against Seniors Soar by 78% in 2022, Experts Urge Vigilance
The End of an Era: National Geographic Dismisses Last of Its Staff Writers
Shield Your Wallet: The Perils of Wireless Credit Card Theft
Harvard Scientist Who Studies Honesty Accused Of Data Fraud, Put On Leave
Putting an End to the Subscription Snare: The Battle Against Unwitting Commitments
The Legal Perils of AI: Lawyer Faces Sanctions for Relying on Fictional Cases Generated by Chatbot
ChatGPT’s "Grandma Exploit": Ingenious Hack Exposes Loophole in AI, Generates Free Software Codes
The Disney Downturn: A Near Billion-Dollar Box Office Blow for the House of Mouse
A Digital Showdown: Canada Challenges Tech Giants with The Online News Act, Meta Strikes Back
Distress in the Depths: Submersible and Passengers Missing in Titanic Wreckage Expedition
Mark Zuckerberg stealing another idea: Twitter
European Union's AI Regulations Risk Self-Sabotage, Cautions smart and brave Venture Capitalist Joe Lonsdale
Nvidia GPUs are so hard to get that rich venture capitalists are buying them for the startups they invest in
Chinese car exports surge
Reddit Blackout: Thousands of Communities Protest "Ludicrous" Pricing Changes
Nvidia Joins Tech Giants as First Chipmaker to Reach $1 Trillion Valuation
AI ‘extinction’ should be same priority as nuclear war – experts
×