Tips for Navigating Office Politics In a Virtual Workplace

For many technologists, one of the key benefits of working from home is the opportunity to avoid office politics as much as possible and focus on your work. 

While lunchtime cliques, rumor mills and obvious markers of power and status (such as a corner office) diminish when you remove the physical workspace, the power moves and social strategies that people use to build political capital aren’t going to disappear by going remote, noted Lucio Buffalmano, sociologist and founder of The Power Moves.

In other words, you can’t escape office politics. Here are some political situations that you may continue to encounter in a remote work environment—and the best ways to respond.

Lack of Peer Support

If your work doesn’t stand out among your peers, you don’t stand a chance of landing those high-impact, high-visibility projects that make a difference to the company and your career, advised Holly Lee, career coach for tech leaders focusing on FAANG companies.

In order to stand out and advance, you’ll need to have the support of your team. And a recent study from VitalSmarts suggests that earning the trust and respect of your colleagues takes hard work, especially when you work remotely. For example, 52 percent of respondents who work remotely feel their colleagues don’t treat them equally. Moreover, 64 percent stated that their colleagues make changes to the project without warning them, a clear indicator of a lack of respect.

If your team engages in peer software reviews and inspections, suggest ways to remove political posturing and politics from the process (or revising the team’s charter). Also, be a leader in sharing knowledge, mentorship and emotional support; for example, volunteer to organize team-building events. That will help senior management identify you as a team member to watch. 

Most importantly, Lee says, if your work isn’t up to par, listen to what your colleagues have to say and strive to improve.

Being the Outsider

Having a strong organizational culture can be a valuable asset, but it can also create cliques and exclusion. As evidence, some 67 percent of remote employees stated that their colleagues don’t fight for their priorities.

To avoid being perceived as an outsider, take a slow, cautious approach, especially when you’re new to a team or company. Get to know your audience and the problem well before offering solutions, Lee advised. And always provide a frame of reference and use company-specific phrases and buzzwords when bringing your ideas to the table.

Everyone needs internal cheerleaders to recognize their work and give them confidence. The switch to remote provides the perfect opportunity to diversify your network, ask questions, and build relationships with multi-functional team members to get them onboard with your ideas.

Sabotage

Being remote won’t stop ultra-competitive people from engaging in political gamesmanship or throwing you under the bus to get ahead. Plus, it’s often harder to monitor their behavior when you’re limited to virtual meetings. At least in the office, you can see who’s buddying up to the boss. 

Some 35 percent of remote employees feel like their colleagues lobby against them, while 41 percent suspect their colleagues of saying bad things about them behind their backs, producing worse results than those for onsite teams. 

If you feel like teammate is actively trying to sabotage you, keep your guard up. Try discussing the issue in private with your potential saboteur; for all you know, it might be a misunderstanding, or at least something that can be solved with a simple talk. Make sure your boss knows how hard you work and how your contributions make projects more successful. Finally, stand your ground if a conniving teammate automatically dismisses your views during meetings, and do your best to build a network of influential supporters across the enterprise.

Office Credit-Grabbing

If you a teammate claims your work or ideas as their own or routinely takes credit for team accomplishments, they may be practicing one-upmanship to stay one step ahead of the competition.

To avoid having your ideas stolen, be careful who you share information with, especially in private or small group settings. If the “grabber” habitually takes credit in team meetings, set the record straight by pointing out the individual contributions of your fellow teammates as well as yourself. Recognizing everyone diplomatically corrects the injustice and sets boundaries for acceptable behavior.

If the credit grabber persists, confront them privately and make sure your boss knows everything you’re doing. Ultimately, having a difficult conversation can be less stressful and frustrating than having someone else take credit for your work.

Finally, remember that your colleagues are human beings, noted Dr. Karlyn Borysenko, organizational psychologist and principal of Zen Workplace. “Most of the time they are trying to do the best they can—give them the benefit of the doubt. This is much more important in virtual workplaces than it is when you can see each other every day.”