Office Politics - it's a new game when everyone's at home

Whether you already worked from home or are a new work from home employee, you have likely noticed lots of changes in your workplace since everyone became a virtual employee. Some of the changes are obvious, like online meetings only and a lack of commute changing your co-worker’s hours. You have probably seen your colleague’s kids or spouses on camera, heard their dogs bark, and know considerably more about their aesthetic and design style after seeing the inside of their house or home office.

But some changes are less obvious, like the changes to office politics based on lack of physical proximity. In some company cultures where the work from home population is the minority, there can be clear and direct limited mobility for these employees (employees often are told if they work from home they will not be promoted). Promotions or lateral movement may be hard to come by; even things like being invited to meetings and seminars may be lacking. For employees working in an office, the company culture may reward those in the home office, rather than those located in field offices. All these factors affect an employee’s standing in office politics – their ability to be heard, have a voice, be “seen”, and drive results can be impacted by working virtually.

This is because much of office politics can be driven by being physically together. You can more easily observe small details like who hangs out with who, how senior leaders interact with each other, which projects are likely to be funded or succeed, which employees are considered up and coming, and use those details to advance yourself. You can see shifts in body language that are not observable over a conference call. You notice where the gaps are and can then offer to fill them. This can be more difficult to do virtually. There is also the adage “out of sight, out of mind.” For many managers this is an unfortunate reality. They are busy. If an employee is in their sight every day, they are likely to receive more projects and recognition, as well as more support with their work.

Now, however, we are seeing most, if not all, employees working from home during stay at home orders. This shifts office politics to a total virtual environment; something we’ve not seen before. Everyone has a level playing field and the advantages to being together physically have been removed. This could be a great time to push yourself to remain relevant and grow your reputation as the traditional political structure scrambles. There could be new challenges your company is facing due to COVID-19, and you can position yourself with solutions. Help others adapt to working from home, suggest ways to stay connected, and reach out to peers, leaders, and your team often. Observe the new normal and find the gaps that naturally will develop. Fill those and make the most of the shifts in office politics during this strange time.

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