Virtual Office Users Can Discuss Politics Civilly

NEW YORK—The U.S. presidential elections will soon be upon us and the heated debates are bound to get hotter. You may have already seen workplace political debates arise in your office—even if you are working from a virtual office.

Whether you work in New York City, LA, Denver, Beverly Hills or somewhere else stateside—and whether you are Republican, Democrat or Independent—the lines are blurring between employees’ work and personal lives. That means coworkers often discuss political views and opinions. But there should be rules, whether you are discussing politics from a New York virtual office or a traditional workplace in LA.

“Passions and tensions are high, especially with the general election so close, and with the Republican and Democratic candidates so different,” says John A. Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “Political discussion is the hallmark of a free society, but when the debate enters the workplace, it can create some significant problems.”

According to a 2012 CareerBuilder Survey, 36 percent of workers discuss politics openly, and 43 percent expect to discuss politics this election year. A Vault.com survey from the last presidential election found that 30 percent of respondents said that a coworker has tried to influence their choice in an election.

“Political debates in the workplace not only can present a possible disruption of productivity, but they can create a tension-filled work environment.  In extreme cases, these debates can even become hostile,” Challenger says.

“For coworkers who discover that they disagree on a hot-button issue like defense spending, women’s health, and health care plans, which have been thoroughly debated in the media, it can be difficult to set aside these differences when it comes time to coordinate on a project.”

Discussing politics in the workplace may be less volatile from a virtual office, because people are at a distant and often instant messaging or emailing. Political discussions, then, are less productivity draining from a virtual office.

Here are two tips from Challenger for discussing politics from a virtual office or traditional office. (Come back tomorrow for three more):

First, keep it civil. You could be a Republican working in a New York virtual office debating with a LA virtual office user on the Democrat’s side. Don’t let friendly banter deteriorate into a name-calling shouting match. Also, know your colleague: Career-wise, it is probably safer to converse with those who share your views.  If unsure about a colleague’s views, then avoid political conversations or carefully probe for his or her views.


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