It has never been easier to work from home, and telecommuting is more popular than ever. More and more companies are discovering the cost savings, efficiency improvements, and productivity enhancements that come with a largely remote workforce.

You may think that turning the standard cubicle farm into a virtual workspace would make personal interactions easier, but that is not always the case. Working remotely does not mean toxic co-workers are a thing of the past. In fact, toxic co-workers can make telecommuting a nightmare, but there are ways to fight back. Here are three effective ways to identify and deal with toxic co-workers in a remote environment.

Toxic Co-worker #1 - The Ghost

You may have encountered ghosting in the dating world, but fellow workers can also turn spectral. This common toxic co-worker demands instant updates -- then disappears as soon as you respond.

Whether you need additional information or help with a tight deadline, being ghosted is no fun. You can work around the ghost by reaching out to other team members, seeking the information you seek and denying the toxic co-worker their power. Or, if something is due by 'end of day', check in more frequently with your co-worker--virtually micro-managing may be merited.

Toxic Co-worker #2 - The Technology Blamer

Technology makes telecommuting easier, but not everyone takes advantage of the opportunities it provides. Some toxic co-workers shirk their responsibility, missing deadlines, and blaming it on downed phone lines, slow internet connections, or any other type of issue. 

If you encounter such a technological shirker, you may need to enlist your boss' help. The management team will not appreciate the loss of productivity, and getting that toxic co-worker to share the burden will lighten your workload. Your colleague may get away with it once or twice, but they'll be forced to adapt to their work environment (i.e., go to a coffee shop). If it becomes a habit...well, that'll be too bad for them.

Toxic Co-worker #3 - The Anti-Communicator

Working remote actually takes a ton of discipline and requires ongoing, proactive communication--whether that takes the form of e-mail, phone calls, and/or collaborative software like Slack or Microsoft Teams. 

The anti-communicator is the type of co-worker that almost appears less available then they are in a physical office. They're reactive when you need them to be proactive, which requires you to inefficiently spend time trying to reach them when you should be focusing your energy elsewhere. If you come across this type of co-worker, get them to reveal their preferred communication method (i.e., text message or carrier pigeon), but if that still fails, make sure you keep good records of attempted contact efforts--they'll come in handy when your boss asks.

Toxic workers are everywhere, even on your computer screen. Working remotely may be wonderful, but it does not shield you from workplace difficulties. Learning to recognize and deal with toxic co-workers remains a valuable skill -- the workplace may be virtual but the challenge is very real.