Change Management

Annelise Tvergaard, design strategist at Ryder, discusses the importance of change management in an office environment.

Change management has a reputation for being a fluffy and non essential (but nice to have) add on to a workplace project - something bestowed on employees if they’re deserving of the extra attention and the project has budget remaining.  What if the success of the project depends on high quality change management?

Many of us don’t realise the extent of how we work is restricted by our environment because we’re so used to it.

Unthinkingly, we come into the office and work between our desk and a meeting room before we go home, wondering what it is we achieved that day. Sadly, this is a typical experience, reflected in multiple pieces of research, and is one of the causes of disengagement and low productivity in the workforce.  

In 2017, Gallup estimated only 8% of the British workforce feel engaged at work, meaning emotionally invested in and focused on creating value for their organisations.  This is down from 17% in 2013.  Those of us with engaging jobs that we care about and are willing to go the extra mile for are the lucky few.

A change in office environment is not just about the end product.  The process itself is a great opportunity to reengage people by involving them in the creation of their new environment - the place they probably spend more time than anywhere else - and get them thinking about how they work best.  When people feel they have a say, they become invested in the outcome.  I’ll admit to being amazed in the past at people clinging onto their beige cubicles and resisting offices flooded with daylight with brand new furniture and coffee machines.  How could they not recognise a superior environment?

Now I know this is because they are human and even positive change causes stress and uncertainty.  Nor do we know how much change people are dealing with in their personal lives - there are so many factors influencing people’s capacity for change.  This explains why the most beautiful workplace can be met with scepticism and even resentment.  When moving to an agile work environment, it’s common for people to feel the project is just about cost saving or impressing clients, when giving people a range of work settings to choose from actually boosts productivity and wellbeing. We can counter the negative feelings by making a strong case for change without dictating how it should look, keeping people informed, involving them in decisions, generating excitement and listening to their concerns.

Another strange workplace phenomenon is when people have a range of work settings, such as focus rooms and collaboration booths, but don’t use them.  Leesman revealed in 2016 that only 27% of people surveyed from agile working environments regularly take advantage of these spaces and the majority still work in the way they did before, representing a huge missed opportunity.  It highlights the importance of culture over space.  If people don’t feel trusted to work away from their desk, they won’t do it.  Considered change management ensures that people feel empowered to work wherever they think best (we’re all different) and this should lead to a happier, more innovative workforce.