2021 has been a year of change. In the past six months, many businesses have struggled to find a balance between keeping their workers safe and remaining productive and effective. Virtual work has created a new collaborative environment, and with it has come the adoption of new technology and processes. Many organizations were poorly equipped to deal with this new work environment, even though most of us know that many employees are more productive when they work from home. In fact, recent studies have found that at-home work increases job satisfaction, decrease in number of sick days, and lower attrition rates all while saving companies an average of $1900/employee over nine months. That’s a mouthful, but simply put it means that many employees do better in a virtual environment. The most successful companies are those that create a positive experience for their virtual workers, supporting them as they integrate new technologies and processes into their daily routines. The most effective way to do this is through change management, which is a cornerstone of and successful employee education program.
Change management is a collective term for all approaches to prepare, support, and help individuals, teams, and organizations in making organizational change. Keep in mind that some organizational changes are planned, whereas other changes are made in response to outside forces your organization cannot control. Organizational changes are common and span across nearly all departments, teams, and sectors of the business world, but there has been a recent increase in the need for technological change. Companies continue to realize that remote work is a viable, long-term option, and are choosing to rely heavily on their employees working from home. This is great, but organizations also need to make sure they are doing everything they can to prepare their employees who will be working more permanently in virtual work environments. Some key areas to keep in mind are remote work policies, technology needs, skills assessment, and overall knowledge and skills.
Remote work policies need to be created and communicated to employees. In years prior, it was often assumed that employees would start work when they arrived at their employer and end work when they left. Deadlines were often set within the typical 9am-5pm schedule, and workers could end their workday prior to their commute home. This has changed drastically with the introduction of virtual work. Employees are choosing to work more on their own terms and time, and it is up to your organization what you prefer. Should employees be available for certain set times each day? When should meetings be scheduled to accommodate all virtual workers? Are employees required to have their camera on or mute off during internal meetings? How about meetings with clients? What is the dress code? These are all excellent questions that you and your employees should be able to answer. Creating an L&D change management program to standardize these practices is a great way to keep everyone on the same page.
Technology needs have also changed drastically with the introduction of online work. While most employees have had experience working with business software and technology devices, some have not, and many are unfamiliar with how to best use new standard equipment. Remote work has introduced daily, if not hourly use of Zoom, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams, Outlook, Slack, Jabber, and hundreds of other software communication programs. Not to mention, electronic signing of documents and online document collaboration has also raised the need for a variety of new software proficiencies. As an organization, it is up to you to ensure your employees are able to survive this change and help all your employees understand and build upon their technology needs.
When you look to make significant organizational changes, it’s important to keep in mind four distinct principles, or stages, to creating an effective transition.
Why does your company need to make changes? An example of this may be that remote work requires more digital proficiency, so your company needs to adapt to an online environment. Think about this in two ways; both the way that making the change will help your company, and the negative effects that not making the change may have. Changes can be both proactive and reactive, so make sure you fully understand what your need for change is. In this step, you should also think about how the change will affect the way people in your organization work and what people will need to do to make this change successful.
Once you have a strong understanding of what you are changing and why, you need to focus on planning your changes. This involves everything from funding to buy-in to mapping success and goals. During this phase of the process, focus on solidifying the purpose and scope of the change you plan to implement. This means creating a budget, getting upper management to sign off, and setting realistic, measurable goals. As learning and development experts, we here at Dashe would advocate for a solution that is employee-centric and flexible. Start broad and focus on your goals, then work with a change management partner to come to a solution.
There are many different ways in which you can implement change. What’s most important here is that you are aware of your employees’ needs and understand their concerns, questions, and confusion. Just like you communicated the efficacy of this program to upper management, you must also make it clear to your employees why you are choosing to make changes.
Communication is a make-or-break part of change management. This principle is relevant across the implementation and planning process and is at the heart of buy-in. Throughout the process, you should be communicating to partners, employees, and management the purpose, mission, and vision of the change you are implementing. This makes employees more comfortable with the process, allows them to voice their concerns and questions, and gives you valuable feedback on how the change management process could be improved in your unique organization.
When creating a change management solution for your organization, keep in mind that the fundamental purpose of that change is to improve outcomes within your business. Employees are at the heart of productivity and outcomes, so it is important to keep communication open and design a change implementation that is employee-focused and flexible. Remember that change management solutions that do not receive full buy-in from employees will always be less effective than those that do. Effective change management solutions are a powerful tool and understanding how they can be used to improve business outcomes can be one of the most cost-effective and productive choices you can make for your organization.