Many of us are wrestling with the extraordinary shift in our ways of working. After making big changes as COVID-19 first hit, we are now contemplating how organisations need to work going forward. How much time in the office? Where do we do our best work? How much face to face, if any, interaction is essential to getting the job done? Is the role of the office changing? Do we need different tools? Do we need to think differently? And really, all this coming together in one big question – How do we best support our people through the change to a ‘new normal’, which works best for our business?
Changes to ways of working in any context require careful thought to make them sustainable. Many agree that a 100% return to the office is not the way forward. However, we are all highly conscious of colleagues who do not have a choice, because their roles are front line, customer facing, operational, or related to critical services. Also, working from home is much more challenging for some than for others. Space may be cramped and noisy. Young children will need attention. If you are on your own, you may find yourself feeling lonely.
What we do not want is a “them and us” culture, where flexible working is regarded as a “perk” for those in a certain type of role, creating divisions and tensions. It is a delicate path to tread. Our challenge is to get all of this settled down to a new way of working which bests suits our businesses.
And of course, we are not just talking about agile working: accelerating digitalisation; increasing the emphasise on the online offering; re-orgs; front end customer-facing process changes; acceleration of some projects; disbanding and re-forming decision-making structures; greater integration between IT Services and functions. There is also an ongoing learning and development challenge – getting people familiar with how to share files, work digital whiteboards, hold workshops.
At Afiniti, we have many years’ experience helping organisations clarify and implement sustainable ways of working changes designed to achieve specific outcomes. Some of what we have learned, and some of what we have witnessed at our clients more recently, is summarised here into five key factors for successfully and sustainably embedding the changes you need to make:
Clear & Transparent
A key factor in achieving and sustaining ways of working changes is being clear what is being asked and why. This may sound obvious, but how many times have your ways of working been mentioned as an afterthought, and then not been followed up? It saves so much time and effort later, if the desired change is clearly defined, including the (honest) reasons. Ways of working changes will be far more successful, and far more likely to be sustained, if they are presented in a way which tells it as it is. No spin, no euphemisms, no missing stuff out because its uncomfortable. Only plain, straight forward language. In the context of coming out of COVID, there will naturally be a lot of uncertainty, so it will be really important to be specific about the end goal (the way we want to work), and why (why it’s good for you, and why it’s good for the business). It will be equally important to be honest about the uncertainty in the meantime. Let’s not try and control what we can’t.
What’s in it for me? This is often missed and can be a basic failure of “top-down” communication. When changes are defined without understanding the impact on each role, credibility is lost, engagement suffers, and the change doesn’t stick. So, why is it specifically good for me? How will my working life improve as a result? And if there is anything, I won’t be able to do, that I used to be able to do? Please be honest and tell me.
This is the one that is most often the difference between success and failure. Changes to behaviour / working patterns will not be made or sustained, unless all the influencing levers are intentionally and fully addressed. This usually includes how people are led, measured, supported, influenced by peers, and rewarded. Put another way, ways of working changes don’t result from a directive, supported by a comms campaign. That’s important, but only a small part of what is required. If you want to change something, change something! Do not just talk about it, or simply set a new “policy”.
How will you know if you and your colleagues have been successful? Is it clear where you are starting from? Afiniti recently worked with a client planning to move to more agile ways of working (pre COVID) who spent time measuring current practices, so there was a clear baseline to move forward from. It was quite surprising how tricky it was to answer simple questions such as how many people on average are in the office each day, between which times, etc? However, this provided really important information for establishing a clear starting point, and surprising insights for determining priorities.
One of the most common problems in implementing change is stopping too early. Ultimately, the intended benefits and outcomes are often eroded over time when people gradually creep back to the old ways of working. Keeping a strong focus on measurement and support networks for an extended period is critical to embedding changes and making it stick. At the end of the day, it’s a journey, and continuing to manage that journey reaps rewards not just to sustain the new model, but also to move it on and continually improve it.
The above points only skim the surface on what is an important and current issue. As such, Afiniti will soon be publishing a range of insights that each focus on one of the five key factors above.
If you’d like to learn more about how we can help your organisation with its business change challenges and opportunities drop us a line and we’ll get straight back to you.