One of the problems with working remotely is that you’ll be out of the loop when it comes to office politics. At times, that may seem like a good thing — you can actually get work done rather than participating in all the discussions that happen around the water cooler. On the other hand, it’s not unheard of for someone to pass the blame for a problem to a colleague who isn’t around, and playing the office politics game can be the only way to land a promotion in some organizations. Just because you’re telecommuting doesn’t mean that you don’t need to know what’s going on back in the office.
Make Sure You’ve Got the Necessary Information
When it all comes down to it, a big element of office politics is gossip. That doesn’t make gossip a good thing, but it does mean that you need to make sure you’re aware of the stories passed around in the office. You won’t get that information in big online meetings — you have to build relationships on a one-on-one basis. That can mean making a point of emailing, calling or otherwise chatting with everyone who is back in the office that you can. If it’s geographically convenient, you can even go out to lunch on a regular basis.
Having those relationships are important for more reasons than just getting the gossip, though. It’s harder for the buck to get passed your way if you are an active participant in the office’s culture, whether or not you’re actually in the office. Higher-ups are also less likely to buy into such situations if they actually interact with you on a regular basis beyond the occasional email update or mass meeting.
Don’t Opt Out of Office Politics
It may be tempting to choose not to be a part of the behind-the-scenes discussions and negotiations that make up office politics since you’re telecommuting. Your lower stress levels from such a decision will be short-term, however. Office politics can be the reason that certain projects get funded and certain employees get promoted. You need to be involved enough that your opinions and input are considered in those sorts of decisions.
It doesn’t hurt if you have an advocate on the inside — someone actually in the office who will speak up for you at the water cooler, when you can’t possibly be there. While you don’t want to pin all of your office interaction hopes on one person, if there is someone who understands your situation and is sympathetic, office politics can get a lot easier. But you can’t convince someone to help you out unless you’re maintaining those ties inside the office — and you may not know that you need someone’s help until it’s too late.
Related GigaOM Pro content (sub. req.): Enabling the Web Work Revolution