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Stabilize and sustain: Managing change in a remote working organization

  • Posted on April 13, 2020
  • Estimated reading time 3 minutes
Stabilize and sustain Managing change in a remote working organization

Many organizations are needing to change rapidly due to COVID-19. Dan Schimmelpfenig answers three frequently asked questions on how these changes be managed effectively, especially with so much uncertainty and so many employees operating remotely.

How is organizational change being impacted by the current crisis?
We haven’t seen change at this pace before.  Many organizations are not equipped to “turn on a dime” and have a global workforce connecting and driving business value remotely.  The stress associated with needing to change that model practically overnight is extremely high for most organizations and their employees.  Normally organizational changes are planned over several months, so there is time to articulate what the “new world” looks like in a thoughtful way, and time to help employees understand what’s coming and when.  Now that timeline has been rapidly accelerated.  As an example, I’m working with a healthcare provider whose business is centered around locations where they provide onsite services to patients; even their back-office functions are tethered to those locations.  Nearly overnight, this organization had to either source laptops or arrange to have people come in and pack up their desktops and then get them set up to work remotely.  The cultural and technical change associated with that is huge, yet there’s no time for a human-centered approach that helps prepare employees for working and collaborating virtually. 

What are the biggest challenges organizations face in driving change?
The natural human dynamic of resistance is the biggest challenge organizations face, and this resistance takes many different forms for many different reasons.  But in most cases, regardless of the program or initiative, resistance comes from being asked to change behavior and step outside the comfort zone of norms for how we’re used to working.  The science and craft of managing change is laser-focused on understanding those dynamics, identifying where resistance is likely to occur, and taking a thoughtful, human-centered approach to enroll employees in the journey from awareness to adoption.  The COVID-19 situation has disrupted the time usually built in to manage that journey.  Instead, organizations have had to “flip the switch” and get people using Microsoft Teams and other remote working technologies basically overnight with some very basic training and communications.  The biggest challenge they face now is figuring out how to stabilize and sustain this new way of working, providing meaningful support to create a more positive employee experience.

To address these challenges, clients are asking for organizational change management support to help them:
  1. Rapidly assess and articulate the “what’s changing” story, to accelerate awareness and understanding of features, functionalities, and new ways of working that helps create a positive user experience in the remote environment.
  2. Refresh and right-size communication and training to provide more information and support to employees, so they are better-equipped to adopt new ways of working.
  3. Evaluate the cultural impacts of a sustained digitized workplace experience, as well as the strategic implications for operating models, productivity, and employee connection.

What three tips do you recommend clients follow to manage organizational change and uncertainty among employees at this time?
The uncertainty is real and stressful.  The good news is that organizations have learned some key lessons over the last 15 years about the importance of our most valuable asset – our people.  From the global financial crisis in 2008 through to the constant evolution of disruptive technology to the market, we’ve learned that one thing remains constant – the need to focus on the employee experience, and the translation of this to the customer experience and value in the marketplace.  My #1 piece of advice to organizations right now is to find the time to think through the strategy for stabilizing the employee experience as it relates to the virtual workplace, specifically:
  1. As you stabilize your collaboration and technical tools, incorporate organizational change into the planning, always from the perspective of the employee experience
  2. This is a stressful time – communicate to employees authentically and from a human-centered perspective, and then formalize this construct in the context of your culture.
  3. Make it as easy as possible for employees to know where to go to get support, whether it is for HR and COVID-19-related issues or for building their own capabilities to be successful in the “new normal.”

A thoughtful, planned approach to managing organizational change is more important now than ever.  If we can help manage change in your organization during these uncertain times, contact me

Learn more about Avanade’s organizational change management expertise and services.

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