This article originally appeared in ICMI, a partner publication.
Change is constant in business today, and when companies can’t successfully drive effective change management, their workers can become disengaged and unproductive. The quality of work can even suffer. When leaders can’t drive effective changes in their organizations, both employees and gig workers can have increased distrust in management. Add to this the work-at-home component, and organizations can see negative results multiply. There can be more gossip and more unproductivity, and workers will get lost in the virtual hallways. They will be late from breaks, lunches, trainings, and meetings. All this drives more lost productivity.
There are ways to make your change management more efficient in the work-at-home environment that will increase engagement, performance, productivity, and retention.
“Getting the ground ready” is imperative as a first step. Prepare the teams across all functions and departments on what is about to happen. Explain the “why” behind the change. This step is about the overall strategy, the 30,000-foot-level view. Explain some of the steps that the organization will take, and promise more details as you move through the change. It’s also important to talk about what everyone will gain from the change.
Next, communicate each step as you move through the change. The communication needs to be once a day at a minimum—twice a day is better. This will engage workers so they really feel like they know what’s happening. Best practice in the work-at-home environment is to utilize video for this type of communication, which can help teams see the real people that are driving the change. It also helps them experience more of the brick-and-mortar feeling. The videos don’t have to be a huge production; they can simply be candid, with a few points.
Post the video on a virtual discussion board or white board in team and department meetings. Allow people to have access to the discussion boards for a number of days to put down their questions, thoughts, and suggestions. This is an important step; by utilizing discussion boards, the organization will have checks and balances. Workers will have questions that you, the organization, hadn’t thought about or didn’t mention in the communication. Either way, this gives leadership the opportunity to do another candid video acknowledging who brought up the question or the missed communication step and to answer the question or add an additional step to keep everyone updated. Continue this process throughout the change management process.
Next, take advantage of each team’s perspective. Best practice for the work-at-home environment includes utilizing different leaders from different teams and departments to communicate their piece of the change process. For example, if the change is a human resources or benefits change, utilize different people in the HR department, the benefits department, or even the finance department to make the videos. This will pull the entire organization together so everyone feels like the entire company is involved in driving the change. Again, this will create the brick-and-mortar feeling in the work-at-home environment.
Next, have a timeline for the change process on your company, division, or team intranet. This way everyone can see what’s coming up and what happened on their day off. This will create more questions, which is great since this means your workers are engaged. Engaged workers have a personal stake in the successful outcome. This also allows the organization to have more Q&As ready for workers. It’s always better to get questions up front so the organization can be proactive instead of reactive during a launch or change, when emotions can run high.
Another example could be an IT systems upgrade or new technology launch. Getting workers’ questions up front is critical, especially with these types of changes, because any downtime can affect productivity, performance, and customer interaction. When it’s a technology change, any disruptions can have different departments at odds with other teams or departments, which isn’t good for the culture inside the organization.
Another best practice is to acknowledge everyone that participates. This will generate more excitement and engagement for the change and will help pull everyone together as a team. A good best practice is to utilize C-level executives for praise videos. These are short, one- to two-minute candid videos taken on their mobile devices that address where the organization is in the change management process. These C-level executives should mention specific people on the front lines and middle managers that have offered suggestions and/or asked good questions.
Restating the overall goal, the “why,” and the benefits for the company is also a great idea. This best practice helps unite the team and increase the positive culture within the company.
It also looks as if the entire company, including the C-suite, is involved in a successful outcome.
Have workers check in with managers before they start their shift. If the manager isn’t available or is in a meeting, have a leadership development candidate or top performer be the point person who has the update. Always have everyone check out at the end of their shift for the latest update or to get their question answered. Put all questions in the FAQ section on the intranet. Sometimes putting answers under specific topics can help keep things organized. If you utilize a knowledge base, a best practice is to have a separate section for that change, process improvement, implementation, or systems integration that you are driving.
Have a special team of front-line workers in all departments be in charge of announcing KPIs while the change or launch is happening. This keeps workers’ eyes on the ball and gives them something to strive toward while building a sense of personal pride in the teams. Wouldn’t it be great to see performance go up while an organization is driving change? It is absolutely possible!
Last, contingency plans: Seldom does a technology launch or change go perfectly without any hiccups. The important thing is contingency plans. What happens if the technology goes down and front-line workers can’t engage with customers? What happens if the payroll can’t run? What happens if the order system can’t communicate with the shipping and receiving department? Having contingency plans and a way to communicate minute-by-minute changes is absolutely critical. Letting the entire company know about the contingency plans will create a sense of well-being and help people remain calm when there is a hiccup. It also helps build respect for senior management from the front lines and middle managers. When things do go sideways, the teams know that there are contingency plans in place, and this will help keep the negative gossip under control. Negative gossip has a direct impact on engagement, productivity, absenteeism, performance, and retention—both customer and worker retention.
There are a lot of moving parts in change management. Anxiety, negative gossip, and worker dissatisfaction are multiplied in the work-at-home environment because of the obvious—you can’t see your teams. All of this can contribute to projects stalling, so be proactive. By utilizing these best practices, your change management processes will be driven much more smoothly in your remote environment, and everyone gets involved. It can be a positive team effort, and everyone can bask in the glory of the change well driven!
This can send engagement through the roof, which helps to drive worker attrition down. When workers know what’s going on, they are much happier and more productive. Successful change management is possible in a work-at-home environment. By utilizing these best practices, the customer experience and worker experience can both benefit in a positive way and help drive a successful change.
Recognized as a subject-matter expert on virtual/work-at-home environments and leadership development, Vicki Brackett has written for and been interviewed by Forbes, Fast Company, Fortune Magazine, CFO Magazine, CEOWorld, HR News, Training Magazine, and a host of other publications, news outlets and podcasts on creative work-at-home and employee engagement strategies.