Virtual Office Users Can’t Avoid Political Debates

NEW YORK—The polls are neck and neck between President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney. But a September Washington Post/ABC poll reveals 18 percent are undecided or could change their minds. That means plenty of office—and virtual office—chatter about politics as coworkers try to sway one another’s opinions.

You may avoid some—or even a lot—of the political chatter when you telecommute from a virtual office, but even working remotely may not get you totally off the hook. Whether you work in a New York virtual office or a LA coworking facility or a Chicago office space, you may run into some heated political debates before November.

“Most companies do not have a formal policy about political discussions in the workplace,” says John A. Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas. “However, especially with workplace bullying and incivility becoming an issue in the workplace, department heads and managers should be mindful of political discussions in an election year and tapped into the office environment.”

For the most part, employees have to monitor their own behavior whether they work in a  virtual office in New York or a traditional office in LA.  One of the keys to political discussions at the office is to keep them brief and light.  The last thing you want is for conversation to become confrontational.

“Supervisors should also be particularly careful about engaging subordinates in political debate,” Challenger says. “In today’s political arena, where political and religious views are often closely entwined, supervisors should avoid putting themselves in a position that could leave them vulnerable to discrimination lawsuits.”

Challenger, Gray & Christmas offers the following tips:

Do not campaign: Give-and-take conversations are acceptable, but campaigning can be off-putting. If someone expresses discomfort with political discussions, respect his or her wishes.
If you must talk politics, stick to politics: While politics are increasingly entwined with religion, consider that aspect of the debate off limits.
Do not evaluate based on politics: You may not agree with a coworker’s political views, but, if you are a supervisor, do not let that influence your assessment of that person’s work and/or value to the company.

In some instances, discussing politics via virtual office technologies may even be more dangerous than face-to-face discussions because tone is lost in e-mail and instant messaging. People can really take an innocent comment totally the wrong way. So take extra care this season even when engaging in the friendliest political debates from your virtual office.


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