The sudden and swift shift towards remote work due to the pandemic has seen tens of millions of workers having to adapt to the change of in person work to working totally remote. For many employees, they haven't stepped back into their offices for nearly two years. It has been a remarkable turn of events for the workplace and how workers work. There is no denying that office politics has taken a new turn in the context of the remote work revolution. However, it also raises the question: how do we navigate office politics when there is technically no office?
With remote work being here to stay and many organizations continuing to shift and adjust to this work setup, it is important to address aspects of the working life that have changed as physical offices suddenly turned into virtual offices. One of these is office politics and its dynamics. Are office politics here to stay even in a remote work setup?
How office politics affect the way we work
Avoiding office politics is practically impossible in a physical office environment. Carrying out your tasks while working in the office comes along with the need to develop work relationships with various people and this is not always an easy thing to do. It’s not expected that everyone can easily get along with each other in the office and there are many instances that misunderstandings and miscommunications can end up in toxic work environments that are nothing but counterproductive.
Office politics can be seen in the littlest things like office gossip and cliques but it can also manifest in bigger things like power play between employers and employees. While some of these may seem like they’re easy to ignore, especially those that do not directly affect you, they can permeate the overall dynamics of a workplace, making it hard to actually get work done.
Office politics in the context of remote work
The success of a remote work setup lies in effective communication, especially because in this context, communication is done mostly in virtual spaces. However, this also means that miscommunication can be more prevalent in such a setup because of the idea that communication is “invisible.”
Without face-to-face interaction, it may become difficult to resolve issues when the only avenues for communication are virtual spaces. Also, because people are usually working in isolation when they work remotely, expressions seen in virtual meetings can be overanalyzed and written communication sent through different channels can be interpreted in more ways than one. These instances can contribute to the rise of office politics in a virtual workplace. While most are unavoidable, it is important to keep in mind that office politics can come in various forms and it can evolve alongside the changing conditions of the working world.
Navigating office politics in the new norm
It is clear that despite no longer being confined in the space of an actual physical office, office politics still persists in the remote work setup. Despite the changes brought about by remote work, office politics seem to be something that will always remain, it would simply take different forms but it would always affect the way a workplace functions. What’s important is knowing how to navigate these so that you would remain productive and functional, especially given the fact that the remote work setup is already challenging enough.
A virtual work environment can be perceived as a space that is more focused on the output you provide because the aspects of a physical workplace are made invisible. You can turn this into an opportunity to develop a mindset that is more in tune with solely delivering what is asked from you at work. This can be a time for you to show your full potential because substance prevails in a remote work setup.
The office politics that take the form of colleagues being “all talk and no bite” would not work in a setup where there is no place for them to simply charm their way toward acknowledgement and recognition despite not doing the actual work expected from them. Further, the new setup can also be a way to reset workplace relationships. As you work from home, you can find some time to reflect on how you want to connect with your colleagues, beyond what is required of work, considering the communication channels available. Through this, you can find a way to engage with others more effectively, especially in a time like this.
While office politics would always be present, it is truly different in a remote work setup. The changes in the way people work brought about by the pandemic includes changes in office politics and the way they should be navigated.
It’s easy to assume that office politics will go away along with the shift to remote work but this is definitely a wrong assumption. The right move when it comes to opening the discourse on office politics in the virtual workplace is to acknowledge age-old workplace traditions are the root of such politics. If there is no effort made to overhaul workplace cultures, office politics would continue to pervade organizations, despite whatever changes the 21st century workplace will go through, pandemic and beyond.
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