Remote and hybrid work arrangements have shifted the role of manager in our uncertain COVID world. This shift is likely to threaten managers of knowledge workers. Our brains constantly scan for threats to keep us safe. The limbic system fires up when it perceives danger. A social threat may be more intense than a physical threat according to David Rock, Ph.D. founder of the Neuroleadership Institute. Rock developed the SCARF model to identify social triggers. Status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness is the framework that activates social threat or reward. The brain distinguishes whether to avoid or approach something based on whether it’s a threat or reward.
Managing a remote workforce may create each of these social threats. Status may be threatened because the manager is no longer visible. Certainty may be threatened because the manager can’t see the work getting done. The workers may be rewarded by increased autonomy at the manager’s expense. Everyone is feeling a loss of connection, relatedness. And the extra effort may feel unfair. Each of these threats feed off of each other that exacerbates the outcome of the threat response. When feeling threatened, perception, cognition, creativity and collaboration all decrease.