Organizational Change Management and the Return to Work

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Collectively, we are all facing one of the largest business challenges of our time. The COVID-19 pandemic has irrevocably changed the way we work day-to-day, and it looks as though many of the temporary, crisis-response driven changes are here to stay. Companies are navigating the unknown and re-imagining the workplace – what it means to go to work, re-defining the office- whilst seeking to build resilience during the uncertainty for employees across the world. Is your organization ready to navigate the new normal?

The question of when organizations will return to the office has no easy answer and varies dramatically across companies. One thing is for sure – this will be a unique journey for every organization, with fundamental changes to the way employees work and collaborate. These changes will be perceived differently by employees across your organization, and it will be important to understand how to effectively engage your employees.

Table of Contents

The Way We Work

The very nature of work has changed. With much of the workforce now working remotely, the way we interact with and engage our colleagues, partners, and customers has fundamentally changed. Many organizations in both the public and private sphere have come to realize that traditional ways of working need to be changed to keep up with factors outside of their control. What started as temporary fixes increasingly look like medium- to long-term changes.

Organizational or departmental customs (like physical team meetings or senior management committee forums) have been replaced by virtual platforms. Traditional leaders or project managers who required physical presence and meetings have been forced to rethink their rules of engagement as a matter of necessity.

For some companies, technology for collaboration and communication used to be an enabling capability. Today, such technology is no longer just an enabler, but a critical capability without which an organization simply cannot function. Ineffective systems that cause a small loss of productivity will compound and add up to potentially massive organizational efficiency losses.

Even the type of work we perform is likely to have changed as companies pivot their business models and strategies to accommodate the changing market environment. As players across industries change the way they design, test, source, manufacture, market, sell, and service their products, organizations must pivot their structure and processes to align where necessary. 

A Re-imagined Workplace

Second, the purpose of the office has changed. The modern workplace has evolved over the years to fit the needs of the workforce. Despite these changes, one thing has almost always remained the same over time and across cultures – a physical presence in the office. 

COVID-19 has forced us to reconsider this notion and realize that the primary purpose of the office may no longer perform work in the traditional sense. Clearly, there are industries and roles that will require physical presence in the near future (pilots, laboratory workers, engineers, etc.), but many other types of work can be performed remotely while achieving the same results.

As organizations find ways to reduce costs during the ongoing pandemic, companies will start to consider reducing their physical footprint (to reduce rental and overhead costs), while developing new ways of working (to reduce travel and related expenses). Offices may be downsized, hot desking the norm, and space re-purposed for collaboration and social purposes rather than individual work.

To that end, the concept of the workplace has extended into employees’ homes. A comfortable and productive workspace is no longer within the control of an organization. Employees with less than ideal workspaces at home are not able to change it easily (financial situation, lease terms, children’s school location, etc.). Longer-term issues will start to surface with employees’ physical and mental health. Organizational benefits and policies will need to quickly adapt to support this new dimension.

Open working space in an office
Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash.

COVID-19 and the Workplace

 Our relationship and comfort levels with the workplace has been challenged in recent months. It is safe to say that each and every person has a different level of comfort when it comes to a return to the office. 

Moreover, there is a direct correlation between employees’ comfort levels in returning to the office, and supportive, tailored communications. There are many surveys being conducted around this topic: the HBR reports that “employees who regularly receive updates from their organizations are more likely to have positive views of their employers” and are more likely to look forward to returning to work (by 43%).

But if everyone is different, how then do we begin to reconcile and move forward with the changes we are faced with?

MP’s Persona-Driven Organizational Change Management (OCM)

As organizations go full speed into their workplace transformation journey, it is vital to apply a structured Organizational Change Management (OCM) approach to effectively and sustainably support changes to employee mindsets and behaviors.

Organizational leaders need to be fully aligned, united, and committed around the vision for change. The strategy and plan for change needs to be crystal clear at the leadership level.

For these changes that affect employees in a very personal and unique way, user personas must be used as a starting point for all OCM tactics to be built upon. User personas are used to bring impacted employees to life. While we cannot know every impacted employee individually, we can create personas to represent different segments.

User personas help to surface the unique characteristics, concerns, and needs of different employee segments. This approach provides a customized and integrated way to engage employees effectively by understanding their concerns and expectations, alongside providing a comprehensive response to their needs.

Want to know how we helped a client adapt and thrive? Read our case study about Organizational Change Management within the Financial Services Industry

Crowd of people wearing masks
Illustration by Angelina Bambina on Adobe Stock.

Conducting a user persona assessment allows an organization to have a deep understanding of different employee segments impacted by the change, and an appreciation of their needs and expectations. 

User personas that are created must be reflective of impacted employees, be a realistic representation of actual employees, and have relatable needs and expectations. Most importantly, there should be sufficient information for each user persona to help customize engagement and communications activities.

As experts in Organizational Change Management, MIGSO-PCUBED understands the value of a strong and targeted OCM campaign:

  • Retain valuable employees.
  • Maintain a positive organizational culture.
  • Minimize risk.
  • Drive smooth and efficient change in these unprecedented times.

With over 25 years of experience managing disruptive changes across organizations and industries, MIGSO-PCUBED focuses on the people affected by change in order to navigate the new and transform the future.

If your organization is ready to position your transformation efforts for success by aligning leaders and defining an Organizational Change Management approach that works, contact MIGSO-PCUBED for more details. We can help align your leaders around a change strategy that is focused around user personas customized to your organization.

This article was written by Elaina Wheeler, Edwin Koh, and Victoria Emslie.

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