6 Surefire Signs of a Toxic Remote Culture (And How to Avoid Working in One)

6 Surefire Signs of a Toxic Remote Culture (And How to Avoid Working in One)

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April 22, 2024 at 4:48PM UTC

If you’re looking for work right now, it’s likely that the stakes of your job search feel high. 

As of mid-July, only one in three people who lost their jobs during the pandemic have returned to work. Although June brought with it some positive indicators of economic recovery, with 4.8 million in growth added to U.S. payrolls, there were still 15 million fewer jobs than in February. Now, against the backdrop of another wave of COVID-19 cases and the possibility of more lockdowns, the job market is likely to take additional hits.

It’s all enough to make it tempting to accept the first job offer that comes your way. But company culture still matters — a lot. And if you’re not keeping your eyes on the long-term future, including when it comes to culture fit, you may regret it later, says Natalia Panowicz. 

“If you find yourself working for a company with a toxic culture, you might pay a high price for this with your health and relationships outside of work and your career trajectory,” Panowicz, the CEO of Codility, a remote tech hiring platform used by companies like Microsoft, Slack and Tesla, said. “If you’re under financial pressure to find a job as soon as possible, consider temporary assignments in the meantime. Listen to your gut when going through the interview process and make sure you keep an eye out for some of the potential red flags.”

What, exactly, are those red flags? And how can you be expected to spot them during a remote interview, without the ability to get a sense for a company’s culture in person? Below, here are the signs of a toxic work culture that you can spot even over a screen, according to Panowicz. 

1. You interview with multiple people at the company — and they all share different, conflicting information.

“Candidates should be wary when they ask about a company's priorities or strategic goals and receive different answers from different interviewers,” Panowicz says. “This signals a lack of internal alignment and may be a point of frustration in their future work experience with the company.”

Prior to COVID, this misalignment may have been easier to mask, as many interviews would take place in conference rooms with multiple team members present. But today, if things clearly feel disjointed across your 1:1 virtual interview calls, that may be a red flag.

2. Your interviewers don’t seem sure how to describe the company’s culture.

Again, there are some basic things — like a company’s mission, goals and values — that your interviewers should be able to confidently speak to, plain and simple. 

“If a candidate is interviewing with a company that can't communicate what their core values are, that is a sign that there is a lack of direction or cultural identity,” Panowicz says. 

3. They speak ill of others at the company.

This is always a red flag. And now that so many interviews are happening as 1:1 conversations over a screen, it’s possible that some people may feel they can more easily get away with badmouthing certain aspects of the company, including their coworkers. 

“When an interviewer shares negative comments about their coworkers, other teams or managers, it suggests unhealthy patterns of conflict resolution within the company,” Panowicz says.

4. There’s a high turnover rate.

Many companies that are still hiring for select positions have also had to downsize their workforces during the pandemic. But if it becomes clear the company had a high turnover rate even before March, that’s a significant red flag.

“If there is a high rate of turnover on a particular team or at the organization at large, it's a telling sign that there are issues with culture in general,” she shares.

5. On your end, something about the situation is making you feel hesitant.

“Trust your intuition,” Panowicz advises. “If a candidate develops a ‘something is off here’ reaction after interviewing with the company or if a candidate is not looking forward to starting work in a particular team, it probably means that it might not be the right fit.”

6. The company hasn’t adapted well to remote working. 

It’s true that, prior to the pandemic, many companies didn’t have existing systems in place to support a fully remote workforce. But if the company you’re interviewing with still seems to be struggling with making the transition, months later, that’s a bad sign — especially given the fact the pandemic doesn’t seem likely to disappear anytime soon. 

“If a company represents itself as ‘remote-first’ but doesn't have processes in place that support remote workers or are not lenient on working hours, that raises a huge red flag in today's environment,” Panowicz explains.

So, how can you avoid landing at a company like this?

“Have a clear view on what values and culture you’d like to work in, and try to assess the opportunities you engage with against this,” Panowicz says. “If you know anybody that works or has worked at this company, ask them about their experience. You may want to check online reviews.”

Additionally, it helps to ask some pointed and timely questions about how the business is navigating the pandemic.

“The current crisis is polarizing towards so many things, including companies,” Panowicz says. “Good companies can become best companies and so-so companies can slide to become some of the worst companies. Check how the company is addressing all the issues that the pandemic and recession brought with it. Ideally, you join a place that has been navigating through this fairly well, with clarity, transparency and support towards the entire team.”

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