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] 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. First 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]
Richard Brenner. "Contextual Causes of Conflict: I," Point Lookout blog, October 7, 2015 Available here. Back

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Related articles

More articles on Virtual and Global Teams:

One site auditing a virtual presentationVirtual Presentations
Modern team efforts almost certainly involve teleconferences, and many teleconferences include presentations, often augmented with video or graphics. Delivering these virtual presentations effectively requires an approach tailored to the medium.
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Virtual teams encounter difficulties that rarely confront face-to-face teams. What special challenges do they face, and what can we do about them?
The "Good Work" team of Damon, Csíkszentmihályi, and GardnerCosts of the Catch-Me-Up Anti-Pattern: II
When we interrupt a meeting to recap the action so far for a late-arriving attendee, the cost of the recap itself is just the beginning. There are some less-obvious costs that can be even greater.
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Although virtual team members who happen to be co-located do meet from time to time, meetings of people who reside at different sites are often severely restricted by tight or nonexistent travel budgets. Such restrictions, intended to save money, can contribute to expensive delays and errors.
A jigsaw puzzle with a missing pieceRemote Hires: Inquiry
When knowledge workers join organizations as remote hires, they must learn what's expected of them and how it fits with what everyone else is doing. This can be difficult when everyone is remote. A systematic knowledge-based inquiry procedure can help.

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A wolf pack, probably preparing for a huntComing June 14: Pseudo-Collaborations
Most workplace collaborations produce results of value. But some collaborations — pseudo-collaborations — are inherently incapable of producing value, due to performance management systems, or lack of authority, or lack of access to information. Available here and by RSS on June 14.
A meeting of a small team working to resolve a serious matterAnd on June 21: Asking Burning Questions
When we suddenly realize that an important question needs answering, directly asking that question in a meeting might not be an effective way to focus the attention of the group. There are risks. Fortunately, there are also ways to manage those risks. Available here and by RSS on June 21.

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