Every team deals with a certain level of office politics, but without an office, where you can meet and interact in person, the dysfunctions and imbalances on your team are even more heightened. Leadership coach and We R Human founder Nikhil Paul delves into the murky world of office politics and explains the effects of remote work on team dynamics and how you can navigate them to foster a positive workplace culture.
Watch Nikhil’s Prezi video here and keep reading for more insight:
What are office politics?
Office politics exist in practically every organization. They refer to the differences in people at work, such as the opinions, personalities, and levels of power that play out in how people work together. On the positive side, office politics can provide teams a hierarchical structure that’s built on social capital and can keep things moving forward in a sustainable way. However, office politics often have a negative connotation, associated with things like gossip, unfriendly competition, and kicking-the-can-down-the-road style decision making.
How remote work affects office politics
When it comes to remote work, there are both positive and negative repercussions on office politics. In his video, Nikhil highlights four in particular:
- Remote work makes it harder for casual water cooler talk. This can be a good thing because it means less time for mindless gossip, but it also means there’s less opportunity to build relationships and trust.
- In a virtual setting, we’re judged by output instead of messaging, so there’s less room to hide behind charm and less motivation to schmooze bosses. In fact, there’s research that shows that office politics diminish when companies move from the office world to a virtual workspace.
- Chat and video meetings make it easier to misinterpret coworkers’ meaning. What used to be resolved with a quick face-to-face chat, can now fester, and the isolation of working remotely can actually cause more feelings of resentment.
- By being more removed from people and constantly connecting online, remote workers are less able to empathize, a phenomenon known as online disinhibition. This, plus a feeling of being burnt out creates less room for caring about your teammate’s issues.
These are all major factors that can affect the dynamic of your team when you work remotely, but they’re not causing a change in office politics themselves – people are. Let’s dive into the main perpetrators of office politics.
The 5 usual suspects of office politics
There are a few types of people that champion some of the more toxic traits of office politics, whether they’re aware of it or not. Nikhil highlights five of these characters in his video. Working with your team to curb this kind of behavior can help build a more positive, productive work environment (both remotely and in the office).
- Mr. Nice Ghost – the agreeable coworker who vanishes when it’s time to make decisions or get things done.
- The Showboat – the person that takes a lot of performative action with little substance and impact.
- The Sad Face – the doubter who shoots down ideas and finds fault in everything. They’ll be the first person to say “I told you so” (and no one wants to hear that).
- The Insecure Emperor – the leader who makes decisions based on feeling and who they like.
- The Cutthroat – the bully who’s focused on climbing the corporate ladder, without much regard to what’s best for their team or the company.
What can you do to curb the effects of office politics?
It’s not enough to know the circumstances and characters of office politics, you need to take conscious action to create a culture that’s open and accepting of all viewpoints. Here’s how Nikhil recommends getting started:
- Reflect on who you are. Often, office politics has less to do with people’s actions, and has more to do with how we respond to actions. Think about what you stand for and consider what you can do to change things.
- Sow seeds of trust. Build relationships with your coworkers by setting up one-on-ones and getting to know them on a personal level. When a problem arises, you’ll be in a better place to work collaboratively and can trust in one another to tackle it.
- It’s usually the environment and structure of your company that drives people to act selfishly and unkindly, so build an environment that’s supportive and open to hearing differing perspectives. Leaders have a responsibility to not only act diplomatically, but to encourage positive behaviors among their employees as well.
There’s so much you can do to address office politics in your organization, and with so many people working remotely, it’s never been more important than to rethink how your team dynamics play out online. If you want to learn more about virtual team building, read our articles on remote work culture and the importance of collaboration in business.