Lately, I've observed a weird trend revolving around demonizing managers pushing to "go back to the office." I heard arguments of legitimizing real-estate investments or safekeeping power imbalance. There might be some truth to it, but even the managers acting this way aren't mean bastards who want you to be miserable. If we want to understand what is happening, we should take a different angle: their core needs are being hurt!
Keep in mind that I am a manager who works 100% remotely and wouldn't want it to be any other way! So I'm trying to put my coaching hat on and understand the "other side."
I wrote about the core needs (Belonging, Improvement/Progress, Choice, Equality/Fairness, Predictability, Significance) already. And I've used it many times since. Well, it keeps on giving. Whenever emotions get involved, we should consider them. So why might some managers be compelled to push back against remote work and wish their folks back in the office? Let's explore the BICEPS core needs. And keep in mind that all this is highly speculative and all you need is one core need to be threatened to trigger a reaction.
Belonging: being a manager can be lonely. You aren't part of a team. You don't get adrenaline rushes for solving problems and getting things done. You are successful by proxy. Being physically close to the teams can be a clutch, a bridge to feel part of that crew and get your kick from their actions. Furthermore, they might see people blossoming in an async world they don't understand or feel comfortable in. They don't feel they belong anymore.
Improvement/Progress: drastic changes increase uncertainty. Uncertainty puts progress in jeopardy. And for people who feel profoundly accountable and responsible for that progress, it means danger!
Choice: like everyone, managers didn't have a say in this COVID-induced move toward more remoteness. They may feel robbed of their decision-making power! Furthermore because in a traditional organization, such a fundamental change would be their prerogative.
Equality/Fairness: managers worked their asses off to be where they are. They played the game, and might not have liked every step of it. It might seem unfair to them to be robbed of their hard-earned advantages.
In a remote context, it is also hard for managers to get the information the teams do not volunteer. In an office context, managers can drop by, listen in on watercooler conversations, and piece information together. But the remoteness renders this part of the job way harder, which may feel unfair. They feel treated as less important than they think they are or should be.
Predictability: closely related to the previous paragraph, by "being there," managers might have the feeling that if something changes if something goes wrong, they have a chance to see it even if they are not pulled. They have the feeling of being able to anticipate.
Significance: in an online call, a manager's window-real estate is as big as Sam-the-intern's. In the office, they stand out. Their work and/or presence are visible to those who matter to them, and the rewards suit their values system.
Remember, all you need is only one core need to be threatened to trigger a reaction. So I prefer to live by Hanlon's Razor and assume that malice is not the cause for this behavior and learn from it.
What can we learn from all this? Besides the obvious - that mocking them isn't going to help - each point of the BICEPS brings exciting angles that we need to target if we want to make progress. If a manager indeed feels threatened by a lack of predictability, volunteering information could be powerful levers to alleviate this pain point.
Only by addressing those needs are we able to calm their fears. And only when those fears are out of the picture will we be able to have a real discussion about remote work and all the benefits it could bring to us and to society as a whole.