Our guest, Allyson Strowbridge, shares more of her valuable insights regarding 7 Change Management Tips when moving or returning to the workplace. Allyson has a deep understanding, borne from experience, of the complexity involved in managing the inevitable anxieties brought about moving or, in this case, the return to the workplace.
Let’s dive in…
Whomever wrote that quote definitely knew what they were talking about! Change on any scale can be hard – but especially so if you’re afraid, in doubt, or in turmoil over deciding to take on a big office move project.
Sure, big initiatives like workplace relocations take time, money and effort which we’re often short on, particularly these days. Yet, we want our companies to stay relevant, or even to pivot to avoid becoming obsolete or stuck in the pre-pandemic past. Certainly that means recognizing change is inevitable. Businesses need to continue to attract and retain employees after all, not to mention keep them engaged enough to innovate and delight their customers. But that means finding and implementing ways to improve the work environment, encourage collaboration and increase productivity, as well as imagine and develop new products and processes. That’s scary stuff, and potentially expensive and risky, particularly if you’ve never developed and implemented an effective and customized change management process before.
Large-scale change doesn’t have to be like avoiding potholes in the dark. If you plan your route to the future carefully and ahead of time, build in some backup contingencies, and put the right tools and methods in place for avoiding those dangerous and pesky pits, your journey will be safer and more successful in the end.
By putting our strategic methodologies into play, we’ve paved the way for many businesses going through a change in work environments and have learned some important lessons along the way. So, because sharing is caring, here are the top 7 things you must do to keep from your business from breaking down during the transition to a future workplace.
#1 have a solid plan
Don’t assume that someone in HR or Marketing at your organization knows how to strategically plan and execute a large change initiative – unless of course they’ve been trained and certified in change management methodologies and best practices. I’ve seen it happen before, and believe me, ‘winging it’ doesn’t work. An experienced practitioner understands that to be effective and successful at implementing change takes dedication, tons of planning and effort, and a certain amount of finesse with content writing and message delivery.
It pretty much goes without saying that shooting out a couple of quick emails to first let people know you’re moving to a new location next month, and then another message a week or two before the move to tell them to start purging and packing up their stuff, isn’t going to go over well. A sensible communication and action plan will give people a long runway to accept and get used to the idea, to ask questions, figure out how much or little (and how long!) their world will be turned upside down, and will allow them to make preparations on their end to ease the transition.
Doling out bite-size pieces of information about the relocation will make it easier for people to digest and process over time, whereas slapping them upside the head with a massive list of to-dos at the last minute will only overload them and cause mutiny. I’m pretty sure you want to avoid a full-scale revolt in the midst of a major office move project – not to mention pandemic! Give your employees the respect they deserve by over communicating and setting expectations – early on in the process. You’ll be happy you planned ahead, and so will they.
Surely you have a good reason for WHY you’re changing your workplace, right? Whatever your reasons are, be open with your staff about why things are changing, what the risks are if you don’t change, and what to expect during the change. Doing so helps to allay their doubt and anxieties over the unknown. Communicating that you understand how the change will affect them displays empathy. Taking the time to provide them with important information builds trust.
Employees need to know that their organization and leadership cares about how changes at work affects them as individuals and as human beings with complex lives to manage. When you bring people in on the process and decision-making, it gives them confidence that the choices being considered and decisions being made are not only for the greater good of the organization, but will also improve their well-being as employees.
#3 bring (the right) people on board
Anyone who has ever been part of a larger organization knows that there will always be the nay-sayers, the curmudgeons who think (often outloud) that just because something isn’t totally broken that it shouldn’t be fixed. They are likely pretty short-sighted and a little selfish in their thinking and therefore need the most help with buy-in. Often this means commiserating with others who speak their own language and who are able to empathize with them so the nay-sayers feel understood and heard. These are people you want on your change committee.
What for, you ask? Well, it’s because if those who put up the most resistance can be convinced change is necessary and get on board with the initiative, then others will follow. Others think ‘If that person is willing to accept and support the change, then it must be important enough to go along with.’ Additionally, you’ve got to have a strong contingent of leaders who are proactive with communications, open to a democratic decision-making process, and who are especially good at listening. Once you’ve got a cross-section of eeyores, cheerleaders and execs spreading the word, then you’ve got some key ingredients for implementing a successful change.
#4 elicit input and provide feedback opportunities
Many leaders think if they ask employees their opinions that they’ll be opening Pandora’s box. That can totally be the case if you just throw open the feedback floodgates without providing a framework for people to share appropriate input and ideas. It’s like taking a small child bowling for the first time. If those guardrails aren’t in place, their ball will end up in the gutter over and over causing frustration and tempers to flare while trying to score some points. Similarly, if there aren’t any guidelines within which you request and allow feedback from employees, then it’s highly likely that their comments, concerns and complaints will derail your well-intentioned purpose for asking their opinions in the first place.
Set the right tone by giving whomever you’re seeking insights from a bit of background as to why you’re seeking their input, and the best way for them to speak up.
Provide some rules of engagement – like reminding them to keep your company values of equity, inclusivity and respect in mind – and request that they include constructive solutions when offering their opinions.
Avoid asking broad questions that result in less than helpful information. For instance, if you want help prioritizing certain investments in furnishings, present them with specific options, like whether employees think money would be better spent on height-adjustable desks versus sound-proof phone booths at the new office.
However you go about it, whether it’s an online survey or a town hall meeting, and before reacting or responding, be prepared to truly listen and ask probing questions if you need clarification so that you’re sure to understand the crux of the problem before making any assumptions, remarks or dismissals. If constructive criticisms are offered with suggested ways of improvement or solutions that you agree with (or don’t), be sure to address them by recognizing the issues and assuring employees that their opinions matter and will be taken under consideration.
It’s also important to let people know that though you welcome all ideas and input, that not every single wish or need will be met – you can’t please everyone after all, though you can sure try. So with that, go into it prepared with some way of setting expectations when it comes to trade-offs. Maybe due to the smaller size of the new office, there won’t be room for everyone to have their own assigned workstation to decorate, but instead there will be lockers for each employee to personalize.
See # 1. Don’t hold your cards so tight to the chest that no one can call Uno. People like to know what’s happening, what’s in it for them, and want to know when things are coming their way so they’re able to plan and be ready for it. There’s also these little things called ‘sense of belonging’ and part of the ‘community’. When decisions are made in silos and handed out as mandates, people feel a loss of control, disrespected and like a disconnected outsider who is unimportant to the success of the organization. Why should they feel anything other than that when kept in the dark?
By sharing information, often, about how the office remodel or relocation project is going, you have an opportunity to excite them by unveiling things they’ll be super interested in – like the design direction or decor and furnishings selections. You definitely want to get people pumped up about the change, because without some anticipation of something new and fresh to look forward to, you’ll be missing an important change management component called building desire.
#6 practice what you preach
Anyone who attempts to understand humans knows that you can’t effectively alter habits without repeated and persistent efforts. If you’re requesting others to try something new on a more permanent long term basis, like working at unassigned desks or only coming to the office for in-person meetings and collaboration with others, then you’ve got to also demonstrate and model those behaviors.
Imagine a C-level exec telling their entire leadership staff, senior and mid-managers alike, that in the new office they will no longer have private offices. Instead everyone, except the C-suite, will have desks in the open office. Furthermore, everyone will have to reserve meeting space to hold their confidential meetings or take private calls. Here again, there might be a revolt – particularly if this decision wasn’t properly vetted with those who will be affected most. Any leader who is interested in creating a culture of equity and inclusivity should be humble enough and willing to experience what is being asked of everyone else. In this way, you’re not falling into the old trap of ‘do what I say, not what I do’, which is easy to do.
Same story goes for modelling a new behavior, like using that new casual lounge space that was designed into the floorplan. If no one from management regularly sits down with their laptop to crank out a few emails, or take a quick call or two from those comfy chairs near the break room, employees will naturally think ‘Well, if my manager is always at their desk, then I guess I’d better be at mine too.’ What a waste of expensive furniture and square footage that is. If you expect people to act a certain way, leaders need to get out there and show them how it’s done. These examples illustrate three major components for achieving, creating and sustaining new habits – knowledge, ability and reinforcement.
Who doesn’t enjoy a little incentivization once in a while? Even the most stoic employees appreciate some external motivation now and again. Get creative about the ways you encourage your colleagues to hang in there, to put in the extra effort and be open to doing things differently at the new office.
Have a purge and pack party, and bring in a massage therapist so everyone gets a 10 minute neck and shoulder rub.
Give a small reward, like the option to select some new accessories – such as a dual-monitor arm, or an anti-fatigue mat to stand on, or maybe a new set of noise cancelling headphones?
Perhaps everyone would like an opportunity to see the new space once the flooring and paint have been completed, so schedule small groups to tour the space and enjoy a happy hour beverage together.
No matter how you slice and dice it, surprising your team with a fun activity, a party favor, a special work tool, or some kind of simple pleasure, will go a long way toward building loyalty and might be the perfect solution to help employees feel valued. Plus it will help them see the ROI of their contributions and sacrifices when transitioning to a new workplace.
Also, don’t forget about the small wins as they deserve some attention too. While it’s all good and dandy to throw a big grand opening party at the new office after move-in, be sure to celebrate achievements along the way that will keep people putting one foot in front of the other toward the finish line. So, take time during the build-out process to recognize someone’s great idea for branding in the space, or share a cheers with one another when a big milestone is met.
the last words…
As you can tell, managing change requires layers upon layers of methods, plans and actions to bring about a successful transition. No doubt there are ways to keep things simple, and I’m all for that especially when talking of small-scale change, like reconfiguring your existing workspace so that certain departments sit adjacent to one another to improve collaboration and work flows. Yet large-scale transitions, like when moving an organization to a new location and asking employees to engage in entirely new ways of working, well, those take careful planning, plus time and effort to put into action in order to get the results you’re after.
Nearly every client we’ve worked with on an office build-out project, has eventually come to the conclusion that they need help with change management. Those that recognize the fact early on have the most success and the smoothest experience. Those that ‘see the light’ partway through the process, still have better chances at a positive outcome than those who brush off a change management initiative all together.
For those who already have a day job taking up 40+ hours of their time and attention, don’t be fooled into thinking initiating a major change is something to easily add to your overfull plate. It’s a boatload of work, and this post is just the top layer of a complex, multifaceted process. So let us take on the heavy-lifting of change management, and leave the strategic planning and execution to the professionals.
Interested in learning more or have questions about your upcoming office move? Connect with me for a free consultation!
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