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Dignity and Respect in Online Spaces

Tackling online behaviour

This guidance seeks to provide generic support for staff for challenging Inappropriate behaviour and furthering inclusion in virtual interactions. You may choose to develop further guidance, based on college/ departmental needs like Geography have done here.

Communication styles can change online so we need to be mindful of our practice. People may choose different approaches for a variety of reasons, including privacy, technical challenges, or personal preference, and we should be respectful of these different needs and styles. Other helpful tips include:

  • It is great to see familiar faces via Teams and this helps us to feel more connected when working from home, but not everyone may feel comfortable using their camera. This could be for any number of reasons, from personal to technical and experiential, so it is important to respect this and no one should feel under pressure to appear on camera.
  • Checking the participants list to ensure no one has been missed and everyone is included in the meeting
  • Turning off notifications/alerts to minimise stress - click here to see how
  • If someone is cross-posting or posts multiple times in a Teams site with a large number of members in a week, consider:

-   speaking to them directly

-   creating dedicated channels for updates (allowing everyone to manage their notifications) and avoiding excluding people from conversations

-   reiterating shared rules and culture of communication.

  • Avoid sharing confidential information in group online meetings
  • Always notify participants and seek consent if a meeting is being recorded and make explicit references to this throughout the meeting as a reminder as this may be available for all to view even after the meeting has ended.
  • Think about platforms to maximise engagement, such as or Mentimeter. Be mindful when using platforms that enable anonymous engagement, especially when this is visible to all participants. Some platforms will allow you to choose and moderate posts which allow for an opportunity to filter anything inappropriate.  
  • For further information on what constitutes inappropriate behaviour and actions you can take, check our Call it, Discuss it and Report it pages or or our quick guide to confronting inappropriate behaviour
     for further information and resources.

We can reduce the need to tackle inappropriate behaviour and discrimination expressed by students and colleagues by establishing inclusive online environments, where it is clear from the outset that certain types of behaviour will not be accepted. We need to be mindful that through this remote culture, we are able to view people's personal spaces and lives. It is therefore helpful to prepare both yourself and the session effectively and establish a framework or ground rules where possible. There is also specific information available on:

Despite the best preparations and intentions, difficult situations will inevitably occur in teaching and workplace interactions. It is important to think about how you can respond to these when they occur online. 

  1. Keep calm: This is especially important when you are teaching, as students trust you to maintain control and you can model behaviour that encourages discussion to remain calm and measured. If you are leading a discussion, do not be afraid to "mute" participants for a brief time in order to bring the discussion back on track and re-establish any ground rules. Try to listen and respond, rather than react to help manage any negative reaction and sustain a positive working relationship.
  2. Clarify meaning: If someone types or says something that appears discriminatory, ask them to articulate their perspective. If you are unsure, it is always helpful to ask questions and clarify the meaning or intent, rather than immediately challenge. This also gives individuals an opportunity to reflect on their own opinions, making them more likely to engage when you offer yours.
  3. Do not get personal: Familiarise yourself and challenge students and colleagues with reference to the University's Dignity and Respect policy and expected standards of behaviour at work, don't criticise them as an individual. If someone feels criticised as a person and an individual, they are far less likely to engage in constructive discussion and reflection.
  4. Address the issue privately, where possible: There may be members of the group who may be affected personally but comments/ discriminatory behaviour but may feel unable to speak up; it is key that people with power in this situation speak up and challenge. However, it is equally as important to try to follow up with a private conversation. You can send an email or start a new chat to explain why something a student or colleague said in another setting is not sitting right with you, but always remember to prepare for this discussion in advance and ensure you leave enough time.
  5. Be mindful of the online environment: As with social media, responding to or engaging in public arguments can sometimes cause further harm. In addition, sometimes we can say things from behind a screen that we would perhaps think twice about saying in real life. For further guidance in dealing with social media and online abuse/harassment, which is relevant here, please find more information on Exeter Speaks Out.
  6. Shift the perspective: Sometimes it can help if shift the aspect of identity that someone appears to be prejudiced against. For example, you can say "would you feel comfortable hearing a man say that about a woman?", or "would it be acceptable for a white person to be treated in that way?" You can also ask the person directly how they would feel if someone had said or felt the same way about them, encouraging them to develop cognitive empathy and challenge their own stereotypes by walking in others' shoes.
  • The same values of Dignity and Respect and relevant procedures apply within the virtual space as they would within the physical working environment. If you experience any form of online harassment or bullying while using Teams, you can seek support from your HRBP or the University's network of Dignity and Respect Advisors.
  • If students or colleagues are being removed from lectures, seminars or other meetings by others, please seek support from the Digital Team. There is a wealth of information and technical FAQs on the Teams webpages. Otherwise, you might consider pausing or postponing the session until the behaviour stops. 
  • Check the Inclusive Teaching in HE pages to explore good practice on improving inclusive practice.


  • Not challenging is not an option, as silence can sometimes be understood as approval
  • Take your time before any session, step back, know yourself and prepare as much as possible
  • Challenge immediately and follow-up privately where possible
  • Question the factual accuracy of information being used
  • Use reflection and be firm and confident
  • Seek support from the EDI team  or the Academic development teams if you are unsure