This year has brought new hope to end the pandemic and return to normalcy, but the rise of the Delta variant has put the brakes on many organizations returning to the office or future work efforts. While this may seem like another obstacle to getting back to normal, it is also an opportunity for leaders to rethink the future of work and adjust their change management approach to fit the present moment; what people need right now is stability, clarity, empathy, compassion and support.
Assess and treat fatigue related to change
Before you jump into planning to return to the office, take a moment to recognize how painful the past 18 months have been. Apart from the apparent stress of living with a pandemic and the constant personal worries, people’s working lives have been turned upside down.
They had to constantly adapt to the multitude of changes that were presented to them: figuring out how to work remotely using new tools and technologies, modifying processes and workflows to better adapt to virtual work and adapt to changing business models or restructuring within many organizations. . The relentless barrage of changes and stressors has resulted in extreme fatigue and burnout.
Change fatigue occurs when disruptive changes overwhelm an individual’s ability to adapt to them, and this can significantly hamper an organization’s efforts to change where and how employees work. If negativity, resistance, apathy and disengagement are prevalent, or if reports of being overwhelmed, exhausted and frustrated increase, change fatigue has set in.
If leaders do not recognize or address this, any effort to adjust working methods could fail. Start planning for re-entry into the office here, assess fatigue related to change within the organization, and plan to provide support and resources to team members.
Planning, communication and way forward
Once the measures to combat change fatigue are in place, planning for how to return to the office can begin. Involving employees and people managers in this process and enabling them to inform the decision can help rebuild or build the confidence necessary for the success of change initiatives.
Use surveys, focus groups, or interviews to collect data on individual and business needs. What do employees need from an individual perspective to do their best? What level of flexibility is preferred? What resources do employees need to support them, both in and out of the office? How effective is their current remote environment in supporting their work? How effective is the office in supporting their work? How can teams work together to be more effective in the future, and what resources will this require?
Collecting this information from individual contributors and people managers enables leaders to understand and balance the needs of individuals with the needs of the business and to determine the solution that is best suited to the organization and aligned with their needs. mission, values and culture. Whether working only in the office, exclusively remotely or a hybrid solution.
Once an organization has landed on its unique solution, it’s time to share the decision with employees. The importance of selecting the right message for this ad cannot be understated. Organizations need to be clear about their intentions for their professional future and provide insight to employees about future expectations. Start by understanding how the return to office plan reinforces the purpose, values, and culture of the company.
Be transparent in sharing the data gathered and feedback received, the scenarios considered and the pros and cons of each to help explain how the decision was made. Instead of focusing on or team members will be working and the expected number of days in each location, explain How? ‘Or’ What they will work individually and as a team in the future, what work environments support this work and why it is best for the organization.
Next, the focus is on preparing leaders and team members for how the business will operate in the future, ensuring that each team member understands their role and expectations. To determine how to help leaders and team members, ask these questions for each function and level within the organization: Has something changed in the way they are supposed to work? What will be the impact of the new work model on their role, their work processes, their tools, their hierarchical structure, performance measurement, etc. ?
Once the specific changes that each role will need to make to adopt the new working model are defined, targeted training, tools and resources can be deployed to ensure team members are able to work effectively.
Last but not least, lead the change management effort with empathy and compassion. This is essential for building the confidence necessary to overcome change fatigue and accelerate the adoption of new behaviors. Start by being transparent and open in communications with team members. Establish a feedback loop and frequently engage team members to provide feedback and take action – provide the training, resources, and tools they need to work effectively and overcome these issues.
The unchanged journey is a simple straight line from the current state to the future state, and the transition to a hybrid work model or back to the office is no different. The key is to see these obstacles as an opportunity to learn, to involve team members in the process, and to readjust the change strategy as needed to correct the course. Leaders who proactively plan for a transition closely aligned with their purpose and values and execute with empathy will find that the effort invested is greatly rewarded.
Julie Fuex is the Director of Consulting Practice at PDR