Are Office Politics Still A Thing When You Work Remotely?

Amaury de Thibault
January 3, 2022

The transition from on-site to remote work during the pandemic was a tricky one for many people to navigate. Two years later and many employees are only just returning to the office – if, indeed, they want to. The professional landscape and dynamics within the workplace have changed so much in that time. In today’s blog, we want to take a look at whether office politics is still relevant in a remote-first world.

Unfortunately, it seems, office politics are unavoidable in any kind of work environment. However, working remotely offers multiple opportunities to transform employee relations for the better. Keep reading to discover how office politics affect the way we work and the best ways to navigate office politics as a remote employee.

What Exactly is Office Politics?

Office politics is all about intersocial relationships and the exchange of power in a professional environment. It refers to the kinds of actions and behaviors employees might use to gain status in the workplace.

Most businesses are hierarchies, which creates a pyramid-like structure inside the organization. The CEO sits at the top, then you descend through various levels of management and responsibility, each with an increasing number of employees, until you reach the bedrock of entry-level staff. In companies like this, everyone has a clearly defined role. Any movement between levels – who gets promoted and who gets left behind – is determined by office politics.

In the best instances, office politics help maintain the organizational structure of the company, so it runs at its most efficient. But in certain situations, office politics can lead to power plays, which negatively affect the way teams work together.

Reasons for Office Politics

- People who are not prepared to work hard and achieve their own results. They depend instead on the success of others.

- Cliques are formed and “playground politics” take over. Team members support their friends regardless of what is the right decision.

- Poor trust and communication. This comes about when people don’t listen and/or engage in malicious communication (e.g., gossip, lying).

How Office Politics Affect the Way We Work

It’s almost impossible to stay out of office politics in a physical office space. In order to work effectively, it’s important that you develop a good professional relationship with your co-workers. Of course, you won’t get along with everyone all of the time, but sometimes, you have to set your personal feelings aside. Breakdowns in communication can lead to misunderstandings that evolve into unproductive and even toxic workplace environments.

Unfortunately, remote work does not signify an end to office politics. Physical symbols of status (like the corner office) might disappear, but the same power dynamics remain between employers and their employees. The most important thing is learning how to recognize and respond to negative political behaviors in the workplace.  

How to Handle Office Politics When You Work Remotely

One of the greatest challenges faced by remote-first companies is how they approach internal communication. Miscommunication can be more prevalent when you’re relying on virtual forms of contact (e.g. instant messaging, Zoom meetings, etc.), because we take more meaning from someone’s expression and body language than the actual words that they use. Even when you’re on a video call, facial expressions seen in isolation can be misread, and misunderstandings are more difficult to resolve on Whatsapp.

In spite of this, however, online communication tools can actually help level the playing field and make virtual workplaces more inclusive. Instant messaging platforms like Slack limit interruptions and let everyone have their say. Read more.

All the change in environment means is that workplace politics take on a different form. Keep reading to find out the best ways to navigate three common political situations as a remote employee.

1. Lack of Peer Support.

You will need the support of your team if you want to advance your career, but remote workers may find it more difficult to build profitable working relationships with their co-workers when they are not meeting face to face. One way to gain the trust of your colleagues in a remote work environment is to establish yourself as a mentor/thought leader, ready to share knowledge with and offer support to the rest of your team.

2. Being the Outsider.

Culture is an important aspect of any organization. It can help prop business structures up … but it can also lead to cliques being formed and certain team members being excluded. It’s easy to feel like an outsider when you first join a new company or team, especially when that company or team operates remotely. Get to know your audience and use company-specific language when offering solutions to problems. Most of all, take advantage of the opportunities working remotely offers you to grow and diversify your network, learn from your peers, and build relationships with people outside your immediate team.

3. Credit-Grabbing.

Office politics is characterized by competition between colleagues for status, power, or promotion. In some cases, this is taken too far by employees who are willing to take credit for work that is not theirs in order to get ahead. If someone is stealing your ideas, you can’t stay quiet! Speak up in meetings and acknowledge the hard work of individual team members who have contributed to the project. Giving credit where credit is due is a diplomatic way to set the record straight and make it clear that such behavior will not be tolerated.

Are Office Politics Having a Negative Impact on Your Company's Culture?

Look out for these 5 telltale signs:

1. Poor employee retention.

2. Regular absences.

3. Breakdown of communication.

4. Slow decision-making.

5. Lack of career progression.

According to a 2020 study, office politics is now the #1 cause of work-related stress in the UK. If you are experiencing professional burnout as a result of a toxic on-site work environment, it’s time to make a change.

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