Office Politics: It Can Affect the Virtual Workforce

There are a lot of considerations when it comes to how to operate a virtual workforce, and among those considerations is office politics. Even a workforce that is scattered across the globe can be subject to company politics, although it may not be as much of a concern as it would be in a traditional workforce. Understanding how office politics works, how to mitigate any of the problems it can cause, and how to talk with a virtual workforce about it can make it easier for everyone involved in the company to get along. Here are some of the most important things to know when it comes to office politics and a virtual workforce. 

Office Politics is a Part of Workplace Culture 

It is not realistic to "escape" office politics simply because an employee works virtually. While it is true that they are not immersed in the politics of their company like they might be if they worked on-site, it is true that some of the climate and culture of the office will still reach them. Because they have interactions with others, and those people have interactions with still other people, office gossip and politics spread even in a virtual environment. Employees quickly learn how the culture of the workplace feels, who really runs things, and what they can and cannot say if they want to fit in with the company as much as possible. 

Personal Agendas and Organizational Culture Combine and Clash 

Each person in the virtual workforce and the company as a whole has personal thoughts, feelings, goals, and dreams. There are things every employee wants to do, and there are ways in which employees can try to further their own personal agendas at work. In some cases that is more common in the virtual workforce, because employees there are not always as closely monitored as employees in a more traditional setting. In some cases it is very easy for a virtual worker to blend their own agenda with the organizational culture. In other cases, there is a clash of both ideas and ideals that can contribute to office politics. 

Influence Tactics Are Adopted By Virtual Teams 

One of the ways that virtual workforce employees address office politics is by trying to influence how things are getting done. They do that in a few different areas, including: 

  • the way decisions are being made 

  • the execution of strategies and policies 

  • the motivation and commitment of the other workforce members 

  • the level of cooperation and collaboration that members of the virtual workforce have with one another 

Not every virtual workforce employee is going to have a lot of effect on other workers, but some will have more influence than others. In some cases there may also be a group of employees that band together to adopt an influence tactic against other employees on the virtual workforce. That has the potential to create a difficult environment. 

Understanding and Managing Virtual Workforce Politics is Vital 

Managers who are creating and maintaining a virtual workforce have to be aware that office politics has the potential to spread to those employees or develop within that group of employees in unique ways from what would be seen in the traditional workforce. A lot of managers do not think about this issue, and by the time they realize that office politics are becoming a problem there are already significant concerns. When managers understand that office politics develop in the virtual workforce in ways that are not the same as a typical, on-site workforce, they are better able to see where the issues are and work to correct them. 

Virtual Workers Often Have Limited Familiarity With One Another 

Because of the global nature of the virtual workforce, these employees are not as familiar with each other as their traditional workforce counterparts. That is important to be aware of, since this limited familiarity can affect how office politics work. There is a lower level of trust in the virtual workforce, and when someone hears a rumor or a piece of gossip or other information about a coworker, they do not have as much information to determine whether they think that information is true or false. It can change their perception of their coworkers and reduce the chances that everyone will work together openly. 

There is a Stronger Focus on Tasks in the Virtual Workforce 

The virtual workforce is somewhat protected from office politics simply because of the strong task focus this kind of workforce has. Most of the people in a company's virtual workforce are doing their jobs relatively independently, and they are not spending as much time interested in what others are doing. With that in mind, the focus is on tasks as opposed to being on culture and development, so a lower level of office politics is generally seen. This is not the case for everyone in that workforce all the time, though, because some people naturally gravitate toward office politics in a way that others do not. 

A Lower Level of Emotional Involvement Means Less Desire to Influence Other

When people are closely involved with one another on an emotional level, even from a professional standpoint, they often want to influence one another. But there are usually lower levels of emotion involved in a virtual workforce because of the lack of proximity and interaction. That means this workforce is less interested in influencing other people, so they are less likely to "play politics" the way a more traditional workforce would. That can make it easier for a virtual workforce to get things done, as opposed to what would be accomplished by a traditional workforce where politics is more a part of the culture. 

There is More Subtlety in Virtual Workforce Office Politics 

Even though there is generally less office politics in the virtual workforce, it is still seen. It is simply more subtle, which can mean that it is less of an issue but also that it has to be watched out for more carefully. Due to its subtlety, when it is present it can sometimes go unnoticed until it becomes a bigger problem than would be expected in a virtual environment. 

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