You’d think office politics fell by the wayside when no one was working in the office.
But schmoozing, backstabbing and manipulation live on in these days dominated by remote work. Granted, it’s less less intense, researchers found.
Regardless of where people work, HR leaders and front-line managers still need to handle office politics so everyone thrives, not suffers, through it.
Why politics continue
Here’s how office politics will continue, whether employees are together all the time, sometimes or not at all:
- Most people have their best interests in mind. Employees and managers tend to use social skills to advance their interests. Even when they work on teams and are supposedly focused on the good of the company, most people have personal goals – money, status, advancement, etc. – at heart.
- Employees still interact. Virtual meetings and online work replicate the real world. Maybe even amplify it. People drop political or personal interest in email. They tout their work in Zoom meetings. They talk negatively about colleagues in side text messages. And they look at and comment on each others’ social media.
- Personalities don’t change. Loudmouths, narcissists, social and professional climbers didn’t turn into quiet observers because they were sent home. And gossipers found new ways to spread the word. No matter the personality – bad or good – it will still shine through online.
- Some people thrive on politics. Some people continue to rise on limited talent and retain power by relentlessly protecting their interests above the company’s or department’s. They’ll continue to hide information or tear down colleagues to make themselves seem more valuable. That’s just as easy – if not easier – when they work remotely.
Resolve (or at least curb) politics
Fortunately, HR professionals can help front-line leaders handle office politics, whether it happens remotely or on site again. Share these tactics to resolve, or at least curb, politics in the workplace:
- Use technology. People who behave badly on site, will likely continue while out of sight. They may think they can get away with it, but technology leaves an electronic trail that’s quite reliable in finding negative words and actions. If front-line managers or HR gets complaints, or suspect, employees are out of line, work with IT to scour their email and other work-related online communication for unethical, objectionable or harassing exchanges. Punish accordingly.
- Communicate more. People sometimes try to get a leg up on others when they can form or taint the message. They can hide a villainous tone in email or negative body language in a phone call. So managers want to use video for meetings. They can also reach out once a day with company and department information, and invite employees to ask questions in a group format so everyone has the answers.
- Plan more. Managers will want to schedule projects and assign tasks as far out as monthly. Involve employees in planning from the get-go so everyone has input on assignments and understands why each person is tasked with what he or she is. They’ll want to define leadership roles and reach so others hopefully don’t politicize the process or outcome.
- Build trust. It will take time, whether employees work side-by-side or towns apart, but building trust between will pay dividends on ceasing office politics. Leaders want to ask for opinions, and more importantly, consider them in decisions. Encourage employees to do the same amongst each other. Share information from the top down and follow up on requests for more guidance, details and/or resources.