Whether you’re a well-seasoned corporate climber, or the new hire at a large-scale organization, navigating a bureaucratic workplace environment can be tricky. For creative thinkers and innovators, workplace bureaucracy may seem stifling and stale. For workers hoping to climb the ladder swiftly, being overlooked in an impersonal business setting that accompanies bureaucracy can make it feel impossible to stand out. If you find yourself seemingly stuck in the never ending cycle of paperwork, overdrawn meetings, and countless emails without resolution, fear not! With a few pivots in mindset and planning, you can thrive in a bureaucratic workplace environment.

Reduce Redundancies

In many traditional office settings, it can sometimes feel like talking about the work that needs to get done utilizes more time than actually doing the work. From planning meetings to daily email reports to middle management, you may start to feel like a broken record, repeating your role in a particular project to countless department heads, peers, and co-workers. While you may not be able to entirely eliminate the processes in place for recording every move, you can take a few steps to proactively set standards, and reduce redundancies.

When working on a large-scale project that involves the coordination, cohesion, and collaboration of multiple departments or personnel, consider emailing all of those involved parties at once. When all parties have the same information, and are involved in the conversation, this limits the additional need to explain various moving parts to multiple departments individually. Thus, when starting an email regarding a large-scale project, consider all of the parties that may be positively impacted by the topic at hand, and proactively spark the conversation. 

Similarly, if you come across an email touching on a topic that could be useful to others, add those people to your response. Obviously, you will have to utilize discretion and couth when dealing with potentially sensitive information, confidentiality considerations, or other potentially tricky context. Consider asking the sender for permission to share the conversation if needed, citing your intent to streamline operations. Otherwise, proactively work to set the standard for communication to include all potentially involved parties. 

Set The Pace For Workflow

In many bureaucratic workplaces that involve the collaborative work of various individuals to complete an assignment, you may sometimes feel as though it takes ages to receive completed portions of an assignment from co-workers. Whether you have to wait an entire day to receive email confirmation about a simple topic, or you’re awaiting an e-signed document in order to move forward, being at the proverbial mercy of co-workers who complete their required duties at a glacial pace can be enraging. While your place in the corporate hierarchy may not allow you to reprimand or fire poor performing peers, you can certainly set the tone for workflow by acting as an example.

When you are asked for “professional favors”, or to complete a certain task under a specified deadline, attempt to do so successfully. By being readily available to meet the needs of peers, and working diligently to ensure that others aren’t held back by your poor production, you can set the tone for the type of pace you expect in return, and the type that you deserve. Within office environments that require extensive collaboration, employees may remember who was easy to work with, and will undoubtedly be more likely to show a little bit of hustle for you, if you’ve shown it for them. The old quid pro quo certainly rears its head in the bureaucracy, and you can use it to your advantage by being the type of co-worker that you’d like to have.

Prioritize Your Workflow

Speaking of workflow and output, you will need to autonomously create a hierarchy of workflow in order to be successful in a paperwork-heavy bureaucratic workplace. While the general flow may involve extensive paperwork, check-ins, and other somewhat redundant processes, you should plan out your day to appropriately focus on solving problems, reaching goals, and achieving desired results first. For example, interacting with clients and completing time-sensitive client projects should trump sending “end of day” updates to your supervisor, as the previous metrics are the actual reason why you are in your position. 

Many notable employees of large-scale organizations with a lot of moving parts cite the creation of a daily schedule and to-do list as integral to success. Being able to put your daily responsibilities in perspective, and assign designated times to accomplish them, can help to carve out appropriate time for other important facets of your position. 

Inspire Autonomy

If you’re the manager who requires that employees receive your approval for just about every facet of a project, consider the ways that you may be inhibiting their success, creating more work for yourself, and stifling productivity. While stepping back a bit may seem daunting to many hands-on leaders, there is certainly a fine line between managing others successfully, and micromanaging to the point of detriment. Thus, consider creating a system that empowers your employees, teaching them the tools to flourish somewhat autonomously.

Perhaps this shift to increased autonomy equates to providing on-the-job training specific to employee duties, or streamlining the approval process for projects that you absolutely need to sign-off on. Setting up gradually increasing milestones for employees who seek more freedom can be a great way to show your faith and trust in their ability to succeed. In turn, this will make employees feel more valuable, and will make them want to exceed your expectations. Essentially, it’s a win-win situation for all parties involved.

Understand The Rules

In many bureaucratic workplace environments, seemingly baseless rules apply to just about every aspect of the job. From cumbersome time-off requests to endless red tape, some company practices may seem backward, redundant, or otherwise plain unintelligent. However tempting it is to merely complain about practices and policies that may not make immediate sense, try to understand the background of these rules prior to extending judgment.

For example, limited time off rules may seem unfair or limiting to employees. If you can only receive paid time off in blocks of 2 hours, but you only need a 30 minute chunk, it may seem like you’re losing time for no good reason. However, consider that this may be a policy enacted to streamline the operations of the HR department. Perhaps it’s the result of prior abuse of flexible time off policies, or the result of anticipated needs that haven’t surfaced yet. By getting to the root of the rule, you may be able to understand the reasoning for it, even if it doesn’t necessarily apply to you. After all, your parents were right when they reminded you that they “don’t make the rules for nothing!” 

Wherever you may find yourself on the corporate ladder, bureaucratic workplace environments can come with a plethora of difficulties. From endless paperwork to the inability to make swift decisions, these types of environments can be cumbersome and frustrating. However, by enacting a few simple processes of your own, you can successfully navigate the bureaucracy. In an otherwise structured environment, you can thrive and flourish with a few bespoke considerations.

Follow Dr. Tim Ioannides on Linkedin and Crunchbase.