PHOTO: UNSPLASH/CHRIS MONTGOMERY
It’s one thing dodging unpleasant office politics when you’re in a physical office, but how do you avoid getting sucked into the murky waters of virtual politics when you’re on WFH mode and there isn’t even an office anymore?
Although virtual work has existed for some time now, WFH has effectively deconstructed nearly all interpersonal contact and physical human interactions. But it’s not right either to assume that a virtual office will mean no politics. Like a company culture, politics prevail everywhere. And it’s the culture of an organisation, not technology, that dictates the amount of politics that can be tolerated in a WFH scenario.
Keep these five tips in mind when trying to successfully deal with the new game of WFH office politics:
People are political by nature
Humans are selfish creations by nature, and will always strive to find a way to optimise their self-interests. Talented leaders lead by integrity and a strong work ethic, but leaders who are ill-suited for management roles are often the ones who most need politics to retain power and protect their own interests above those of the organisation. As always in a regular office, try to be thick skinned, and not get sucked into their petty power play games of politics.
Stay visible to your boss
While your boss might notice you hustling in the office, WFH means he will probably only be able to see a fraction of that input other than from your completed deliverables. If your boss can’t see your work, he won't know if you are working, so it becomes easier to fade from his or her memory. Likewise, it is equally important to keep colleagues reminded that you exist and how much you are contributing to the team. Keep yourself relevant and in the loop by scheduling regular Zoom meetings to share innovative ideas with your boss frequently, giving suggestions to help out colleagues who might be struggling with a problem, and sharing useful information informally with the team. Regular interactions with the team will also strengthen interpersonal skills and help reset relationships. But be careful to not go overboard and spam everyone’s inbox.
Build up your reputation
Reputation precedes a person, so make sure it's stellar rather than one that gives people the impression that you're a lightweight. Use the WFH period as a time to solidify your reputation as an integral member of the team, a problem solver, and something with very high integrity and an honest work ethic who isn’t swayed by petty office politics. Building up an excellent reputation also comes from over-delivering rather than underperforming. Say yes to as many opportunities as you can (even if you don’t have the solution for a crisis immediately) and take on the tough tasks that others are hesitant to reach for.
Accept invisible communication as the new norm
A successful WFH culture relies heavily on (strong wifi) and effective communication. However, while messages and emails are now accepted modes of professional communication, it is hard to replace body language and physical nuances that would typically prevail in a normal office environment. This means misunderstandings and conflicts may be more likely to occur, with resentment setting in faster and being more prolonged, since issues can’t be resolved quickly in person. The lack of digital empathy is a real concern amongst employees since it makes office politics seem even uglier than normal, especially as virtual (invisible) communication can easily make one feel excluded from groups and private conversations. When they can’t see or hear the conversations, it can result in exaggerated feelings of isolation or alienation and depression. Moral: don’t mistake your assumptions to be reality.
Diversify your network
Working virtually means that it’s harder to network with colleagues and build interpersonal relationships. But maybe the WFH silver lining is that it does also give us the opportunity to build relationships with colleagues and clients that we otherwise may not have had time for till now. Ironically, WFH makes for a great time to reduce office politics by strengthening the diversity of your networks. Use the opportunity to build a heterogeneous network of connections, especially with colleagues in other parts of the world, to be more “politically” successful during these unique professional circumstances.