Change management strategies for a successful return to the workplace

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The COVID-19 pandemic has forced every leader to start managing unprecedented changes to their organisation. One of the biggest challenges leaders are facing is effectively transitioning their teams back to the workplace in an environment where very little will be the same in the short term—and perhaps not in the longer term either.

Teams will need to adapt to working from the office again, which will require new views, practices and expectations. Here are our management tips to ensure success as your team returns to the workplace.

Provide a compelling ‘why’

Motivating people to change and adapt requires you to provide a compelling reason. Many teams have proven their work can be done quite successfully without commutes, office space or in-person meetings. So, ‘why’ the need to return to the office? Office space provides critical benefits for satisfying the human need to connect, co-creation and to reinforce shared purpose. Explain how the reasons relate to your organisation’s objectives so that people are motivated to return.

In a recent global survey conducted by Robert Walters, the number one frustration when working from home was social isolation/lack of socialising with peers. Spending time in the office is important for concentration, teamwork, team building and company culture.

The survey also showed that 86% of respondents in Japan would like to factor in more remote working once they return to their regular working structure. It is worth considering how work from home arrangements could fit into your working model.

Vision

In order to manage change successfully, it is important to create a vision of your organisation’s future. Be transparent about the new challenges the organisation is likely to face and how you will start to tackle them. While it is all still unknown, it may help to use the design thinking concepts of ‘now, near and far’ to create a vision for the future.

Provide a view of what will happen:

  • In the short-term of the now
  • In the medium-term of the near
  • In the longer-term of the far

Establishing your vision and communicating it helps people to understand what the change process will look and feel like, making it more real for them. It is worth providing a printed version in the workplace for employees to refer to, so they are engaged and motivated to change.

Empathy

People want to know you care and you are ready to support them. To manage change successfully, make sure you are delivering messages with compassion and empathy. It is important to not just share new procedures or rules, but to reference how this impacts people from a wellbeing perspective. Adapting back to a full work week can be unsettling for some – make sure you are patient and flexible with people moving back into the workplace.

Our global survey found that 75% of respondents think their organisation’s leaders will need to be more empathetic to work-life balance and what it means for different employees. It also revealed 46% think their organisation’s leaders will need to have a better understanding of mental health and wellbeing. Consider how you will show empathy to your employees.

Managing change with your team can be difficult, but to do this successfully - clarify your ‘why’, communicate your compelling vision and ensure you are demonstrating empathy. If this is done well, it provides an opportunity to motivate people and create a positive future for your company.

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