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Does remote work remove office politics?

I recently got asked by a newspaper if remote work arrangement will end office politics.

This was my reply.


 

I don't think that office politics, "power moves", or any "social strategy" are going to disappear by going remote.

Power dynamics and strategies to achieve certain results are inherent to human beings moving within competitive environments, and the workplace is an inherently competitive environment whether you're in the office, or at home.

To understand this concept, we need to go to the core of what work really is.

Work is what people do to acquire resources.

And resources are one of the most essential elements to facilitate what we have evolved to care about and compete for, which includes power, social status, mate acquisition, mate retention, and successful reproduction.

That being said, I do believe that office politics decrease by going remote.

The rank that comes with the big desk and the corner office still impact people's income, but when you're at home the social status impact is less obvious, less "in your face", and less part of your daily reality.

So while the income/resources element is still there, the daily signals and reminders of social status and power are gone.

We are still animals who evolved to care about status and rank in our social environment, and to strive and compete for that social status.

But if that environment is not physically around us anymore, then, well... Status-wise, the markers of power and status, together with the incentives and reminders to fight and compete decrease.

And that should lead to a reduction of office politics, as well as to the relevance of office politics in people's lives and minds.

I believe it's not a coincidence that the biggest lovers and proponents of remote work are people who do not make it their life priority to climb to the top.

These people prefer the "peace" and freedom of working remote, to the higher competition of working in the office.

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Matthew WhitewoodStefselffriendSerena Irina
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Tl,Dr:

Remote work will probably decrease the impact of office politics and power moves, but as long as people work to acquire and increase their income and resources, as well as their place in society, it will never go to zero.

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Matthew WhitewoodStefselffriendSerena Irina
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Remote working is quite interesting.
I also find that there are fewer politics and power moves in a way.

I began to notice some interesting email power moves since people have fewer chances to play power moves in person:

  • Making you look like you are in the loop in an email thread when something was discussed with you out of the loop in another email thread
  • Cutting your reply out of an email thread by replying to an earlier email rather than the latest email
  • Forwarding your email to someone else to make you look bad
  • Intentionally being vague and sidestepping issues
  • The "busy" and "sorry I didn't reply" power moves occur quite often

Email and WhatsApp seem to have different dynamics and feel even though both are asynchronous.

Since everything is written and can be passed around, I think people become more covert in their power moves.
There is less outright rudeness, aggressiveness and overly dominant behaviour.
But many people don't notice these covert power moves, and these power moves get lost in these asynchronous channels.

Managers have to use less coercive and authoritative techniques to get employees to deliver.
I think, for remote working, only the pull style of leadership can work.
If you are coercive, employees will probably not fill in the gaps in what you tell them to do.
They will only do the minimum.

Lucio Buffalmano and selffriend have reacted to this post.
Lucio Buffalmanoselffriend

Thank you for sharing your personal experience on this, Matthew!

I was missing much of the first-hand experience here.

Matthew Whitewood has reacted to this post.
Matthew Whitewood
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