"Office politics" is one of the top reasons (if not the #1 reason) why developers hate their job. In this post, we will cover how to deal with office politics while maintaining your peace of mind and continuing to grow in your career, especially if you're a remote developer.
Before delving into the topic, let's take a moment to understand the context of office politics.
What is office politics?
Office politics can come in many flavors. Below are some examples of what it might look like:
- Backbiting to paint a negative picture about a person for personal benefit.
- Using influence and people skills over competency to receive credit for work, secure promotions, or get important projects.
- A community member shared their story about a CTO lacking both technical and leadership skills, adding stress to the team with erratic behavior. The person feels helpless, having no counter to the power dynamics of the CTO.
- Talking one way in private and another way in public.
Now that we've explored examples of office politics, let's delve into a formal definition to better understand its dynamics.
Definition of office politics
"Office politics" refers to the strategies that individuals and groups use within a workplace to gain advantages or personal benefits. These strategies can include social networking, influencing decision-making, and other forms of interpersonal or organizational manipulation. Office politics are often driven by power dynamics, personal interests, and the competitive nature of career advancement.
The word "politics" has a negative connotation in most conversations. However, it can be used as a technique to do something good for the team and organization as well. For example, drawing attention to the bad behavior of a colleague.
For this post, we are going to focus on the negative aspects of office politics and how to deal with them.
What fuels office politics?
Office politics often thrives due to underlying issues within a company's culture. These issues may include:
- Lack of transparency in communication: When important decisions are made behind closed doors without clear communication to the entire team, it can breed suspicion and fuel office politics.
- Presence of multiple layers of management: This is more common in multinational companies (MNCs). In organizations with numerous management levels, information may be distorted or selectively shared as it passes through different layers, contributing to power struggles and politicking.
- Insecurity and a lack of morale among the employees: When employees feel undervalued or uncertain about their roles within the company, they may resort to political maneuvering to protect their interests or gain recognition.
- Unequal distribution of resources or opportunities: When resources, promotions, or important projects are not distributed fairly, it can create a competitive environment where individuals may engage in office politics to secure their share of opportunities.
Does office politics exist in remote work?
It is a matter of debate. Some argue that office politics may intensify in remote work environments due to communication silos, where information is not as freely exchanged as in traditional office settings. On the other hand, an opposing viewpoint suggests that office politics might decrease in remote work settings. This perspective attributes the reduction to the fact that influencing leadership decisions becomes more aligned with competency and outcomes, rather than relying on interpersonal influence or proximity to decision-makers.
Dealing with office politics as a remote developer
Below are some strategies you can employ in a remote setting, to effectively manage office politics:
- Be assertive: Being assertive as a remote developer involves clear and direct communication, setting boundaries, actively participating in virtual meetings, and expressing opinions and ideas confidently. For example, it's important to articulate needs and constraints clearly, such as requesting additional time for tasks, offering constructive feedback, and negotiating workload and deadlines. Asking for clarification or help when needed, handling conflicts respectfully, and advocating for personal professional growth are also key. In digital communications, maintaining professionalism and clarity is essential to ensure messages are understood and respected. These practices help establish a presence on the team, ensuring one's contributions are recognized and valued, and maintaining healthy professional relationships.
- Build positive relationships: Actively engage with your colleagues to build positive relationships. This includes fostering a collaborative atmosphere, celebrating team achievements, and offering support when needed. Positive relationships contribute to a healthier work environment and can mitigate the impact of office politics.
- Practice your communication and interpersonal skills: People lacking communication skills are more likely to be misunderstood and susceptible to office politics. While aiming to be a charismatic personality isn't necessary, continue working on your communication skills and interpersonal skills. This will provide you with more peace of mind, allowing you to focus more on your core competencies.
- Pick your battles: You don't need to deal with every petty political issue, especially when you have programming work demanding your mental focus. Address only what truly matters to you, and delegate or ignore everything else for your mental health.
- Know when to walk away: If "dealing with office politics" becomes one of the most significant daily tasks, and it's affecting your well-being, consider leaving. It is the responsibility of leadership to ensure a safe and unbiased workplace where competency is valued.
In conclusion, mastering the art of navigating office politics as a remote developer is important for maintaining a healthy and productive work environment. You can employ some of the strategies mentioned in this article to build your resilience against the challenges of organizational dynamics. Remember, the remote landscape may introduce new nuances to office politics, but with strategic approaches and a focus on positive relationships, you can not only weather the storm but also thrive in your professional journey.
This article is far from being an exhaustive guide and your opinion is appreciated to make this discussion more meaningful.
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