Jodi Williams & Maggie Willis of CallisonRTKL break down how successful change management can help your organization foster clarity, equity, and consistency in communication.
Between working from home, turning living spaces into classrooms, and adapting to hybrid schedules, society dealt with substantial workplace change over the last couple of years. For some, change is welcome and invigorating; for others, change can be terrifying and disruptive to their work and workplace. As a result, companies are investing in change management to approach change effectively. Without support, preparation, and help, employees may feel severed from their workplace or left behind.
Workplace-related change management has undergone a few shifts in the pandemic and post-pandemic environment. Prior to the pandemic, change management activities frequently involved in-person communication. Change management was a part of the regular workday: in-person meetings and focus groups, site tours, office posters, and passing conversations. During the pandemic, communication shifted to become 100 percent online, presenting challenges in ensuring teams were adequately engaged in changes within the workplace. But how could organizations be sure they reach everyone while relying on virtual attendees, online chats, and long emails? The simple answer: more communication and deeper, more intentional engagement.
Clarity in Communication
In the hybrid world, increased communication is critical to reaching the masses. When passing a colleague in the office, it is easy to remember to ask a question, provide feedback, or chat about a new project. A challenge in the hybrid and online workplace has emerged: a shortage of widespread communication and engagement, particularly across different teams or portions of an organization. For example, an employee may dismiss a company-wide email as “unimportant,” leaving them unaware of a new policy and missing the opportunity to provide feedback. To solve this issue, more communication and varied options for gathering and responding to feedback are essential. From emails, virtual presentations, website updates, and announcements in team meetings, it is vital to provide more pathways to consistently and clearly distribute messaging with opportunities for feedback. While this requires more preparation, guidance, and effort than pre-pandemic, it is critical to the organization’s change program.
Equity in the Hybrid World
As companies adopt hybrid work policies, there are rarely days when all employees are in the office or all online together. Hybrid working leads to hybrid meetings where some participants join from office conference rooms, and others tune in via webcam, which is typically not equitable for all participants.
This combination of virtual and in-person participants presents new challenges: from technology issues such as audio and video glitches to unequal “presence,” it is challenging to enact change management activities in a hybrid work situation. One common issue in the hybrid workplace is having one virtual participant take up an entire TV screen while in-office employees appear much smaller; similarly sidebar conversations in a large room can be more disruptive. Tools have emerged to help make hybrid meetings more equitable. From virtual tours, protocol videos, and different ways to make presentations captivating, like Miro boards and interactive activities, there are ways to engage all participants, both in-person and virtual. When virtual employees can participate in meetings equitably to in-person employees, meetings can become wonderfully collaborative.
Adopters and Resisters in Change Management
As with most changes, there are always early adopters and adamant resisters. Workplace leadership should understand best practices to engage employees in the change continuously. The goal should be to quiet the “resisters,” get the best engagement from the early adopters and win over most of the middle. To do so, leadership needs to spend time with employees who are more apprehensive about change to gather and understand their feedback and find solutions. Changing every resister’s mind is impossible, but if every employee can understand why change is taking place, that is a huge service to enacting change.
Changing every resister’s mind is impossible, but if every employee can understand why change is taking place, that is a huge service to enacting change.
Understanding different perspectives may also prevent challenges that might otherwise occur when changes are made without clear communication. Remembering that not everyone communicates the same way continues to be essential to enacting change. For example, scientists may need a clear and process-driven approach, while other sectors may respond better to a culturally-centric approach to change. Leadership must understand their audience and how to communicate for different personalities.
Consistency is Critical
Implementing a layered approach to communication through various platforms is essential to ensuring all employees are aware of changes and have opportunities to provide feedback and ask questions. Effective communication keeps the feedback loop open, allowing employees to provide valuable insight. Even when the company has no updates, leadership teams can share an update that there is no update! Everyone is busy, and a lack of consistent communication can lead to wild and disruptive rumors.
Today, most change management in the built environment focuses on why employees should return to the office and why space assignments are changing. Through a broad and well-thought-out change management approach, hesitations can typically be put to ease.
At the end of the day, a lot of change management happens “on the side of people’s desks,” meaning one-on-one communication is key. Knowing we are all extremely busy with our “day jobs,” it is critical that any change plan adequately identifies the importance of the effort. Successful change management can help your organization foster clarity, equity, and consistency in communication.