Remote office politics
March 18, 2020 8:12 AM   Subscribe

I am new in my department. I came aboard around the same time as someone else who is much more strategic than me. She identified the person on our level with the greatest power and endeared herself to them. My measly authentic relationship building process can't keep up and now that I'm remote it's even more evident.

The two people in question are not very responsive to my communication whether it is email, IM, etc. One of them even less so, and I know it's because she sees that I don't have any power so she doesn't "need to" respond, but it's bad for cohesiveness in the department to accept this from her. I have made efforts to communicate and she ignores unless other more veteran people respond first, which means one on one she barely talks to me. I find this rude, for one thing, but it is also not great for collaboration on projects if there is not a good flow of information. Our work is tangentially related, sometimes shared tasks, but primarily working alongside each other toward similar purposes. I guess mostly I don't need to interact with her but it's a department of four people so it just feels really shitty that one of them won't even respect me enough to answer my communication.

We are human service and need to work well together. I need to be able to collaborate with these people but it's like I barely exist. How do you build influence when you work remotely and have no real power?
posted by crunchy potato to Human Relations (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not sure how helpful my advice will be since I work in a very casual entertainment/tech industry but I generally find myself on your side of these situations fairly often. It's a hierarchical and competitive business and can be pretty ripe for people like you describe who want to play politics. I'm not one of those people and it's easy to get steamrollered.

It sounds like keeping your head down and getting work done is an option but you'll be less visible.

Personally I combat this in three main ways:
1. Make contacts/friends outside your department. Nothing makes people notice you like seeing other people notice you.
2. Go way out of your way to help people. Become the person everyone knows they can come to with an issue. Become an expert in some key niche areas and really dig in. This dove-tails with #1.
3. Be funny. Find places in your day-to-day work where you can inject some well-timed humor. If you do it right, people seem to really respond to it and remember it. If you can't be the smooth-talking schmoozy org chart climber try out being the sharp quick-witted person that always has answers and is so far above the fray you find it funny. Note that this probably won't get you promoted but YMMV.

All of these require significant mental bandwidth and that sucks, but politics are everywhere and you can't deal with other shaven primates without some chest-thumping.
posted by misterdaniel at 9:48 AM on March 18, 2020 [4 favorites]

I'd be inclined to talk to whoever you report to, the one and/or maybe two people right up the chain of command from you, and have a meeting or talk about how you can be most effective now that you're working remotely, and what you can do to help keep the communications channels open etc.

You're not framing it as "How to deal with Evil Coworker" but just as how you can be most effective as a remote worker. Come in with 3-4 constructive ideas of your own and hopefully the others will have some ideas, too. One of the topics of discussion will be how to productively engage all your team members to help make you as much of an asset and as productive as possible, and ideally you boss would then take on the job of talking with your various team members to get them on board with this plan.

I don't think this is going to 100% solve your problem but it has a good chance of helping and also definitely positions you as a team player who is working proactively to solve problems for the team and also positions the person/people who aren't responding to you as acting against the team's & the boss's stated plan which is a bit more actionable than just being random jackasses to the new person.
posted by flug at 1:10 PM on March 18, 2020 [3 favorites]

Is the communication all ad hoc emails etc? I've found putting some regular structure around communications can help in situations like this. E.g. schedule a weekly meeting for review/sign off collaboration or whatever, with a clear agenda and actions required in the meeting, and by each person. People may not show up to the meeting, but then set up the expectation that things will progress regardless, and absence = sign off or delegation. Getting agreement to this is very important before you start it.

Sometimes, when people are very poor at coming back to you, it can be a symptom of overwork and under-resourcing, competing priorities, or challenges managing priorities, not necessarily malice.

Best of luck.
posted by smoke at 7:02 PM on March 18, 2020 [3 favorites]

If you have a couple of outstanding questions that this person would be a good resource for (or even better, if you can help THEM with something), give them a call or try to get on their schedule for 10-15 minutes. Be very respectful of their time - not too much small talk, have your ideas organized, if a scheduled meeting try to end early. Especially when remote, email back and forth can be annoying. Being remote is a good excuse to ask to connect like this. You'll have to know whether that approach is appropriate in your office, but it's worked in mine.

This also reminds me of the Benjamin Franklin effect - if you can get someone to do you a favor, their brain compensates by thinking they like you, and they will do you more favors.
posted by beyond_pink at 9:54 PM on March 18, 2020

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