Embracing change in the workplace

Published / 05/06/2015

One of the biggest challenges organisations face in the workplace is often not how to build a new environment but how to apply it; making sure employees understand and embrace their new surroundings.

Gone are the days where office design is largely determined by the number of employees who need to occupy it and their status dictating the size of desk or need for an office.

Today’s office is about creating spaces that encourage collaboration, inspire creativity and allow for concentration, enabling different generations and mindsets to work together happily and productively.

Introducing flexible working

For many employers, one of the most attractive benefits of flexible working is to create potential to reduce office costs, but moving this from aspiration to implementation can be tricky. Whilst desk sharing is a growing trend, a fully flexible environment supported by all employees still remains somewhat rare.

Today I am working at a client’s headquarters in North London sharing a space with Paul and John. Tomorrow could be colleagues from the Manchester Office and the day after a new sales person from Paris.

Creating a ‘neighbourhood’ is a flexible, elastic term in a desk sharing environment, in contrast to the classic office there is no dedicated work setting but an opportunity for colleagues to occupy space within a nominated area i.e. a ‘neighbourhood’.

However, desk sharing is not the solution for every activity and is definitely not for every company. It is important that activities are associated with minimal paper and equipment and thus conducive to a new way of working. The most important criteria is that the desk sharing ethos and guidelines are suitable conveyed and appropriate to the corporate culture. Together, with my client we have developed a robust workplace toolkit. The result has been very good and those making use of the new flexibility have reacted positively. Above all, this is because the project was communicated openly with a clear message endorsed from the top of the organisation.

Another aspect of the success is balancing the reduction in personal space with the addition of supporting areas and facilities creating ‘Activity Based Working’. It is recognised that the desk is not the best setting for every activity and that some tasks can be better performed in other spatial configurations.

Desk sharing, be it at a communal workbench or an individual workstation should never be done at the cost of the employee, namely giving an employee the right to one’s own space or quiet space when required. For this reason it is important to offset this loss against other features.

Managing employee resistance to change
No matter how great your new office design may look, not everyone will be singing its praises. Employees resist change for a variety of reasons, ranging from a straightforward disagreement over headcount or utilisation data to deep-seated psychological prejudices.
Reasons for employee resistance may include:
• Belief the initiative is temporary
• Loss of authority or control
• Loss of status
• Lack of faith in own ability to make a change
• Feeling of pressure (too much, too soon)
• Lack of trust in management
• Loss of job security
• Feeling that the organisation (and managers) are not entitled to extra effort

For some people resisting change, there may be multiple reasons. Adding to this complexity is the fact that sometimes the stated reason hides the real and often more personal objectives. Allow and support employees to work through the change process as they give up the old and either embrace or reject the new. Typically employees may experience an initial denial period then begin to realise that the change cannot be ignored. They may experience strong feelings such as fear, anger, helplessness and frustration before finally accepting the change either in a positive or negative way.

Responses to organisational change
Employees who are dead against change will either resist overtly, voicing objections loudly and often or covertly. Covert resisters operate from the underground, masking their defiance but posing the employer a much more serious challenge.

The four basic types of reaction typically include:-

Enthusiasts
An employee strongly championing the workplace change using opportunities to share approval and convince others of its merits. Use these people as trainers to coach others during the implementation stages.

Followers
These employees range from those who are generally complaint to those who have displayed initial signs of resistance but have since accepted the inevitability of the change. This group will do what is required but little more.

Objectors
Objectors will display their resistance to the new strategy whenever the opportunity arises. They may become disruptive in meetings, not attend workshops and refuse to carry out instructions.

Underground
Employees who are resistant to change but have chosen not to publicly voice their opinion through fear of punishment or loss of status or authority. Managers who are against change but need to be seen in support are prime candidates for developing underground resistance.

Overcoming resistance to change
Treating the ‘forces against change’ is a more productive use of resources than simply ‘reinforcing the forces for change’. Choose the most powerful of the resisting forces and devote time and energy to weakening these.

Show the fiercest resisters what’s in it for them. Appeal to them either in terms of personal gain (such as status, flexibility, recognition, and so on) or loss avoided (such as financial or job insecurities). Ask consultants, customers or others from the industry to explain to resisters (face to face) how the current situation disadvantages them and the benefits of the new workplace strategy. Put resisters within stakeholder teams that allow them to play some decision-making part in the change process.

Defuse political power plays amongst managers and employees by conducting broad-based meetings where goals and tactics are openly discussed. Look at the project through the eyes of the resister; listen openly to what they are trying to say. Re-examine your own beliefs and be prepared to change yourself.

To learn more about managing resistance in the workplace why not join NJW for their annual conference on June 10th in Central London. This year’s theme is focused on Workplace Continuity and is run in support of World FM Day.