Why do senior managers want everyone back in the office?
Is it because their identity depends upon it?
Let’s assume most of these managers are 40+. Let’s assume they are male, white, middle-class, married with kids.
This is basically me, back when I was still in corporate.
I had a demanding job. I worked long hours, with an hour-long commute each way. I went on a business trip at least every quarter, often every month, which meant being away for a week or more, sometimes over weekends.
I brought work home some nights and occasionally over the weekend.
When I wasn’t working, I was spending time with my family or doing work on the house.
I didn’t have the time or energy for hobbies, for joining groups outside of work or in my local community. I got my social contact through work (where I had made some great friends), through my family and mostly through other parents we had made friendships with (my wife mostly sorted out the social calendar).
I identified with my job.
No, I OVER-identified with my job.
I never intended it to be like that but it just crept up on me.
I’m no workaholic but I was serious about my responsibilities and committed to delivering what I promised. So work expanded as I got more senior roles, more people to manage, bigger projects to deliver.
My work became where I expressed myself, where I achieved things, where I established my position in the world. The office was the domain in which I felt most certain, most important and an individual in my own right.
How would I have coped with the pandemic? Work from home, the family domain where I am ‘just Dad’? Having my team remote from me? Denied the sanctuary of my own office? Not having people to chat to? Not having places to be, where I was needed and the focus of attention?
I think I would have struggled and felt that my status had been a bit reduced, that my effectiveness was diminished.
So I would have been quite happy to get back to the office.
I say that as someone who was used to working in distributed teams, across countries and time zones, in an asynchronous way. Working remotely isn’t a problem for me.
But I think I would have had a kind of existential crisis.
Getting up and putting on the suit, going to a place where my status and me role were clear, where I had a clear role, where I got to hang out with my peers, that was a massive part of who I was as an individual.
It was an identity that I had grown used to, a mask that fitted me so well it was hard to tell where the mask ended and I began.
I would have wanted to get back to the office so I could go back to the comfort of my ‘office identity’. A quick fix to the discomfort.
So I understand why managers want to get back to the office. But I still don’t think it’s the right thing to do, for their staff or their organisation.
And, because over-identifying with your job is really bad for you, ultimately, it’s not the right thing for them either.