Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 20, Issue 48;   November 25, 2020: Newly Virtual Politics: Choices

Newly Virtual Politics: Choices


Pandemic or not, workplace politics marches on, though politics might take slightly different forms in a pandemic. Those different forms make new choices available, and render some formerly effective choices ineffective.
U.S. President Lyndon Johnson giving Senator Richard Russell the "treatment" in the White House Cabinet Room on December 17, 1963

U.S. President Lyndon Johnson giving Senator Richard Russell the "treatment" in the White House Cabinet Room on December 17, 1963, 25 days after Johnson became President following the assassination of President Kennedy. As Senate Majority Leader form January 3, 1955, until January 3, 1961 (shortly before he entered into office as Kennedy's Vice President), Johnson became known for using the "treatment" to coerce powerful politicians into supporting his legislative priorities, a practice which he evidently continued to employ as President. At 6 feet 4 inches (193 cm) Johnson was about 9 inches (23 cm) taller than the average male of his generation, and he knew how to use his height. Photo by White House Photographic Office, courtesy Wikimedia.

Many teams of people accustomed to working together face-to-face are now compelled to work from home because of the pandemic. Because they're working from home, these teams are now virtual teams. As described last time, this new virtual configuration affects workplace politics, and in particular, it affects the politics of meetings. But it has other political effect as well. Here are three more ways the new virtuality affects workplace politics.

Where you live matters much less
Because work-from-home is so much more common in a pandemic, choosing where to live is a little more complicated. If you're commuting less often to an office, then for the time being, your choices of where to live might expand — in some cases, dramatically. If you have flexibility, use it. Even if you elect not to change where you live, some of your colleagues might. Because that choice can affect you, be alert to these possibilities.
Similar calculations apply when searching for employment. In nonpandemic times, some employers valued on-site work much more highly than they value it now. You might be able now to find an employer who's very comfortable with your working remotely, even if you had difficulties finding such employers in the past. If you're willing and able to work remotely, the number of employment opportunities can be vastly greater than they otherwise would be.
In time, we can expect this phenomenon to affect compensation. People who live in high-compensation areas will be more likely to be working alongside those living in low-compensation areas. Because employers usually try to keep compensation equitable across work teams, a leveling process might occur if the effects of the pandemic are long lasting.
Appearance matters, but in new ways
Personal appearance does matter, as much as it mattered before the pandemic. But when work-from-home is in effect, what matters most is your video appearance in exchanges mediated by Zoom, MS Teams, or whatever software your employer uses. If you're engaged in interviewing for a new position, similar considerations apply to prospective employers.
For most, dress is a notch less formal — not less than that — for work-from-home than it was for work-at-work. In all other respects, for dress, there is little change.
But there are other changes. For example, relative stature — your height compared to others — can affect your ability to influence others, especially those who don't know you well. [Stulp 2015] [Stulp 2013] But in the virtual environment, height isn't evident. People who are taller than most others are likely to experience a loss of advantage; people who are shorter than most others are likely to experience a loss of disadvantage.
Attend Your height compared to others can
affect your ability to influence
others, especially those
who don't know you well
to the background of your video image. Bedrooms are unprofessional. Choose a space at home that looks as close to businesslike as you can make it.
The online disinhibition effect is more important
According to psychologist John Suler, a contributing cause of destructive conflict in the virtual environment is the online disinhibition effect (ODE). [Suler 2004] [Brenner 2015.5] Briefly, virtual environments inherently weaken inhibitions that limit socially offensive behavior.
One factor contributing to the ODE is what psychologists call dissociative anonymity. In the virtual environment, compared to real life, the connection between our personhood and our social actions is weaker. This weakened connection — dissociation — creates a sense of psychological freedom that enables us to say or do (or not say or not do) things that we wouldn't (or would) otherwise.
The implications of the ODE for person-to-person interactions include elevated probability of toxic conflict. If you expect difficulty in interactions between yourself and others, be aware that those difficulties are more likely in the virtual environment. Prepare yourself. Consciously choose not to engage or respond unless the issue at hand truly merits such action. Choose instead to wait if you can. Others might step in, or the issue might otherwise resolve itself.

Perhaps one can derive the most significant political advantage from recognizing that teams of people who work from home are in every sense virtual teams, even if all members worked face-to-face, in the same suite of offices, before the pandemic. For example, someone who relies on daily or nearly daily face-to-face confidential chats with political allies could expect to encounter some difficulty in the virtual environment. To continue to interact with each other as if face-to-face interactions were available when they are not is to risk miscommunication and confusion from which recovery can be most difficult.  Newly Virtual Politics: Meetings First issue in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Anticipating Absence: Why  Next Issue

Leading Virtual Meetings for Real ResultsAre your virtual meetings plagued by inattentiveness, interruptions, absenteeism, and a seemingly endless need to repeat what somebody just said? Do you have trouble finding a time when everyone can meet? Do people seem disengaged and apathetic? Or do you have violent clashes and a plague of virtual bullying? Read Leading Virtual Meetings for Real Results to learn how to make virtual meetings much more productive and less stressful — and a lot shorter. Order Now!


Comprehensive list of all citations from all editions of Point Lookout
[Stulp 2015]
Gert Stulp, Abraham P. Buunk, Simon Verhulst, and Thomas V. Pollet. "Human height is positively related to interpersonal dominance in dyadic interactions," PloS One 10:2 (2015), e0117860. Available here. Retrieved 9 November 2020. Back
[Stulp 2013]
Gert Stulp, Abraham P. Buunk, Simon Verhulst, and Thomas V. Pollet. "Tall claims? Sense and nonsense about the importance of height of US presidents," The Leadership Quarterly 24:1 (2013), 159-171. Available here. Retrieved 9 November 2020. Back
[Suler 2004]
John Suler. "The online disinhibition effect," Cyberpsychology and Behavior 7:3 (2004), 321-326. Available here. Retrieved 22 April 2021. Back
[Brenner 2015.5]
Richard Brenner. "Contextual Causes of Conflict: I," Point Lookout blog, October 7, 2015. Available here. Back

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In virtual teams, toxic conflict sometimes seems to erupt spontaneously. People who function effectively in co-located teams can find themselves repeatedly embroiled in conflicts that seem to lack specific causes. What triggers toxic conflict in virtual teams?
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Breaking large problems into smaller parts can sometimes create a set of risks that make solving the problem in pieces more difficult than solving it as a whole. But we can still profit from breaking the problem into parts if we manage those risks.

See also Virtual and Global Teams and Conflict Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A close-up view of a chipseal road surfaceComing July 3: Additive bias…or Not: II
Additive bias is a cognitive bias that many believe contributes to bloat of commercial products. When we change products to make them more capable, additive bias might not play a role, because economic considerations sometimes favor additive approaches. Available here and by RSS on July 3.
The standard conception of delegationAnd on July 10: On Delegating Accountability: I
As the saying goes, "You can't delegate your own accountability." Despite wide knowledge of this aphorism, people try it from time to time, especially when overcome by the temptation of a high-risk decision. What can you delegate, and how can you do it? Available here and by RSS on July 10.

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