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The COVID-19 outbreak potentiates a spiral of transformation within companies. Taking unyielding precautions is necessary to prevent the spread of the virus between employees — and so amid stricter social distancing restrictions, many organizations are presently normalizing remote work.

Teodora Gaici

Author Teodora Gaici | Copperberg

Adjusting to this new work environment forces organizations to confront a ghastly issue: with billions of people working from home, change management programs are more difficult to implement and sustain.

The traditional office environment is becoming progressively obsolete — or at the very minimum, a less functional work setting after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. While many organizations fervently evince their adaptability to telecommuting work arrangements, others believe there is something subtly ominous about the viability of remote work. A concrete example of the latter is provided by a recent study of 215 supervisors and managers — 41% of which voice their skepticism “as to whether remote workers can stay motivated in the long term.” This assumption is very probable; sustaining change while effectively managing a remote workforce is already proving to be an extremely strenuous task for many.

However, the exact opposite of what was formerly predicted may happen. A Gartner study cements this observation, revealing that 74% of professionals surveyed in early 2020 intended to “move at least 20% of their on-site employees to permanent remote positions.” The simple argument made by this study is that the majority of industry players are not rejecting the prospect of a long-term remote working scenario. Faced with disruptions to precursory work patterns, a large number of firms recognize the quick transition towards virtual office settings as an opportunity for preparing a stalwart plan of business continuity.

Even after the pandemic is over, many firms are likely to switch to virtual-first work arrangements or at the very least, prefer a mix of on-site and mobile work. Acknowledging this possibility is not a problem; multiple organizations are already downsizing their office space. At issue is the inadequate planning for achieving and ultimately, sustaining transformational change remotely — and easily the most important part of this plan is to fill the projected gaps for effective change management.

Major decisions are hanging in the balance but thankfully, recommendations derived from experts’ knowledge can help firms put a transformational strategy into motion in a virtual-first environment.

Explain the ‘Why’ Behind Change, But Make It Clear and Purposeful

The overarching changes in business practices can lead to long-term stability amid the COVID-19 upheaval. That is, of course, if firms find a way to suitably justify the reasoning behind the organizational-wide transformation.

The baseline of a complex paradigm shift is to go beyond announcing which priorities are about to change; this will only rush workers to poor judgment—and rightly so. Laying the groundwork for an efficient change management plan requires clarity and purposefulness. Workers need to puzzle out the benefits of a new organizational change. It is otherwise difficult for them to understand why the firm’s rationale matters and if their involvement will make more than a scintilla of difference.

A lucrative change management plan takes the worker’s readiness to adhere to new organizational demands into account. Quite often, however, ineffective communication puts the brakes on an employee’s willingness to genuinely contribute to the firm’s transformational project. Explaining why the organization is making a change provides context for what happens next and helps workers understand the purpose behind the shift. It is confirmed by experts that aligning the firm’s strategy with a purpose results in “more engaged, affectively committed, and intrinsically motivated” employees.

Assemble a Messaging Framework That Facilitates Internal Dialogues

Firms staying the course during particularly onerous times promote adherence to new work patterns and behaviors by consistently leading with a people-first mindset — meaning that such organizations:

  • Put together a team composed of enterprise-wide influencers — a team, in experts’ words, that is able to develop a network of change agents in the organization.
  • Keep workers informed while efficiently fostering their participation through the methodical use of collaborative technology.
  • Motivate employees to remain engaged by being transparent and accessible, setting up clear goals, and regularly addressing potential concerns.

As companies firm up plans to invest in collaboration tools for remote teams, they have a better chance to foster teamwork while the organization prevents the transmission of COVID-19. To spruce up worker motivation for change, industry players also have to encourage meaningful engagement between the organization’s employees and key influencers. This genuinely stimulates informal dialogue sessions that may bring to the surface a worker’s adaptability capacities and impediments potentially slowing down change. Experts confirm the likeliest outcome:

“The more you can listen, the better [your workforce] can function and adapt to new conditions or circumstances.”

Ultimately, the end goal is to assemble an enterprise-wide messaging framework that aims to:

  • Attain a shared understanding of the firm’s transformational mission among workers.
  • Facilitate value-added internal dialogues to acknowledge and positively implement organizational changes.

Find Reasons for Optimism to Propel an Enterprise-Wide Adaptive Mindset

With firms responding to the immediate safety threats posed by COVID-19, many workers have no choice but to indefinitely turn their homes into workspaces. Professionals are proving to be generally confident in working remotely, but many still struggle with the trade-off of being available 24/7. Others are ill-equipped to perform their daily duties in virtual office arrangements and grapple with the issue of maintaining their focus.

It is important to realize that, although the initial approach is not fundamentally flawed, the program may not immediately yield the expected results. However, getting workers invested in change over the long term requires a positive and highly specific communication strategy — not fear-induced practices. Fear justly overrides logic and purpose. As much as anything, it is necessary to cultivate optimism among employees to heighten their involvement in the company’s transformational plan and gradually develop an enterprise-wide adaptive mindset.

While some situations generate a spontaneous response, a well-thought-out change management plan isn’t a once-and-done deal. That is why it is essential to monitor the progress of the firm’s program and its workforce — especially the development of workers’ adaptive behaviors. If a failure occurs, industry players not only need to readjust their strategy; they should also ensure that persistence isn’t lacking and continuously re-emphasize the ‘why.’ In doing so, leaders shouldn’t put unnecessary pressure on meeting KPI targets. It takes time to skilfully adapt to change, and KPI-constrained teams won’t always work.

To guide a remote team through change, industry leaders need to think ahead on how to best prepare for any upcoming disruptions — all while building stability as they sustain new work patterns and enrich organizational-wide interactions.

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