Back to work after Covid-19: The importance of defining the impact of change.

This is also a time to reimagine the future of the workspace and co-create the roadmap with collaborators.

author picture Article written by Renaud de Lombaert

In our previous post, we emphasized the importance of empathy mapping in extreme circumstances such as Covid-19. Organizations now face the urgent task of redesigning the working environment in accordance with new sanitary regulations. Many employees have probably expressed concerns over the post-lockdown workplace rules and wider consequences of the crisis. Clearly defining the impact of change, and co-creating the roadmap with collaborators where possible, is key. Here is another essential tool to respond to Covid-19 related challenges and help people push past resistance.

10 working areas, different impacts.

When asked to consider the potential advantages of highlighting the impact of change, participants in one of our recent webinars offered insightful answers: less rejection, greater efficiency and likelihood of success, coalition building, change reinforcement, better engagement, sensemaking… These are just a few key points that make a compelling case for defining the impact of change before taking any further action.

But how exactly should you proceed? Our partner PROSCI has identified 10 aspects of a person´s job that may or may not be impacted by the change[1]: (1) processes, (2) systems, (3) tools, (4) job role(s), (5) critical behaviors, (6) mindset, attitudes and beliefs, (7) reporting structure, (8) performance review, (9) compensation and (10) location.

Defining the impact of the change means understanding how and to what extent the future state will be different from the current situation for each aspect. Use the worksheet below to “draw the before and after picture” (qualitative) and assign a quantitative value to each line. As you drill down into the specifics of the change, its magnitude and scope will emerge, providing a solid basis for action. Now, what about the specificities of Covid-19 crisis? As the workplace undergoes a major facelift, location is probably the first aspect that should be considered. To up the ante, and not revert to old schemes without further exploring hybrid remote/on-site settings, processes and critical behaviors[2] might also be reexamined or reengineered. Mindset will ultimately be key to embrace changes as they quickly unfold. Let us dive a little deeper on those points.

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Tracing the contours of Covid-19´s impact(s).

Change as an imperative and an opportunity. Not everyone is looking forward to going back to the office. Recent surveys have illuminated attitudes towards the workplace post-lockdown. Looking into the situation from a global perspective, Hays[3] points out that the fear of getting ill remains a major concern for a third of respondents. A similar proportion is expecting more flexibility. In Belgium, the work-from-home scenario forced by Covid-19 has brought valuable insight into the way people remain engaged in a remote setting, as a recent survey by BDO suggests productivity gains[4]. According to the Émile Bernheim Center of the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB), 9 employees out 10 declare to be willing to work from home 1 up to 3 days a week[5]. It is certainly an impressive number if we consider that approximately 6 Belgians out of 10 had never or almost never worked remotely before the crisis broke out[6]. Rethinking the workspace as a blend of physical and digital features is thus not only an imperative, it is also a transformational opportunity.

Ask the right questions first. Some important issues should be addressed before we can reclaim the office space. The fact that existing processes have been mimicked remotely due to Covid-19 does not mean we should rush back to some sort of slightly adjusted normality. Quite the contrary. As McKinsey puts it in a thought-provoking paper[7], organizations should “reconstruct how work is done”, defining what can be done remotely – not in default mode as during the crisis – and what benefits can be drawn from hybrid settings. Proper answers bear the potential to improve collaboration and productivity, advance the corporate culture and cut back on unnecessary costs. It all comes down to establishing “which roles must be carried out in person”, and how much of remote work to inject taking into the account the lifecycle of a given project. Among the many questions that arise from this challenge are “how do we support the kind of interactions that cannot happen remotely?” and “how much space is really needed, and where?”. These should guide the efforts to redesign the office space and “resize the footprint”.

New routines and norms, effectively enforced. In the critical behaviors and processes impacted by the change are the basic routines of moving to and around the office space. BNP Paribas Fortis offers an interesting example of the many measures designed to keep its workforce and clients safe[8]. Beyond the provision of hydrogel and masks – 3 to 4 per person, per day –, special arrangements are made to ensure social distancing. This means less people around and greater flexibility, or in plain terms, staff turnover in 3 groups. People are required to work on-site for one week and remotely for two weeks. Floor markings and direction signs, along with Plexiglass around welcome desks and within call-centers, have been installed to keep the space clean and organized. Considering that 80% of the staff in its Brussels headquarters depend on public transport, arrival times have been extended to prevent any en masse morning rush. But no matter how well-thought out the measures and the existence of environmental cues, tools and resources, they will quickly fall by the wayside without any real behavioral reinforcement protocol. Evidence[9] shows that the hardest part is to speak up when higher ranked staff or clients fail to comply, say, not covering up or ignoring other precautions. According to Grenny (2020), a scientist for business performance, the plan must therefore also engage other sources of influence: a compelling moral frame, deliberate practice, peer and leadership pressure, social support and score keeping (see below).

Managers? Manage well-being… No discussion about behaviors and attitudes in times of crisis would be complete without mentioning the whole deriving set of coaching challenges. Closely connected with frontline employees, middle managers are key players and referents. “Preferred message senders” (communicators) for all matters related to daily operations, they also serve other important roles such as liaison officers, advocates, resistance managers and coaches (CLARC roles). Social support in extreme circumstances such as Covid-19 is essential. And by that, we must understand “emotional support and role modeling”[10]. According to Hammer and Haley (2020), two social science and health researchers, emotional support comes in the form of being open to discussing work and non-work issues alike, or promoting virtual exchanges to bridge the distance between home and the physical office. As for role modeling, it all comes down to defining one´s boundaries and making them noticeably clear, sending the right signal for others to follow suit. And by remaining up to date and knowledgeable about general sanitary regulations and wellness resources, managers will also be able to provide effective support and further guidance.

… and promote the right attitudes and mindset. We referred in a previous post to empathy mapping as an extremely useful tool to foster listening skills among managers. Coaching must come from a place of understanding. Stepping into someone else´s shoes to map her/his personal and professional struggles is certainly the most effective way to get the ball rolling. It might be a great time to touch upon the benefits of practicing gratitude. As a deliberate and more conscious practice, gratitude improves resilience and “the perception of communal strength”[11]. As more positive emotions surface, new perspectives and coping solutions emerge. Sometimes referred to as the “broaden and build” effect, it gives people an edge in a turbulent environment.

Extended benefits of defining the impact of change.

If you need any more convincing of the need to define the impact of change at the highest level of granularity as you possibly can, here is a list of all the benefits[12] it can yield (PROSCI), along with some more practical advice to deal with Covid-19 specifics.

It helps define “ability”. You may already be familiar with the second A of the ADKAR method (Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, Reinforcement). Change can only be achieved if a person is aware of the need to transition, is eager to operate his/her own change based on a deep understanding of its personal implications, and is sufficiently equipped. Ability is what it takes for someone to implement the change, demonstrate the adequate behavior, and perform to the required standards. It is important to keep in mind that people must operate in a highly compressed time frame under Covid-19 circumstances. New routines must be quickly adopted. Experts suggest setting up some sort of bootcamp upon people´s return to quickly introduce new routines and get to rehearse them right away[13].

You need it to define adoption metrics. Progress tracking and reporting is a big part of any structured approach to change. What does “an adequate level of adoption” look like? How do you course-correct? Actionable advice put forward by specialists and researchers include performing random daily inspection rounds and keeping scores publicly to provide visual evidence of the organization´s level of compliance – i.e green above 95%, yellow in the 80-95% range, and red for the rest[14].

It will get them on board. Co-creating the roadmap with your collaborators is the surest way to get them involved, boost usage rates, and keep them on board for the long haul. People are the building blocks of change. In fact, it is somewhat tautological to insist on “making them part of the process” as there is no change process without them. Taking a bottom approach to brainstorm will greatly assist with the abovementioned task of reconstructing “how work is done” (see above) and start afresh. While broadening and nurturing the pool of ideas, such a participatory approach might generate solutions that are more sustainable and fully grounded in today´s reality.

It will reveal blind spots. If you rely too much on a “helicopter view” of the change – an easy trap to fall into –, you may miss some important aspects of the change that are truly relevant to your employees. Zoom in on each of the 10 areas and leave no stone unturned. Again, this is a time to reimagine and rebuild.

Personalizing is engaging. Tailoring your intervention and response to the needs of your audience, down to each of its members, is essential. It is a staple of our digital era and it applies to everything that demands a great deal of cooperation down the line. For CM managers, it means digging deep and collecting enough information to offer proper support. As we have said, use the results of the empathy map to inform this impact assessment or cross-fertilize insights.

This is raw material for storytelling. The more “human” the message, the easier it is to empathize. This is essential given that moral messaging is critical to ensure that new safety norms and routines are effectively enforced. Give the risks of non-compliance flesh and bones by sharing real stories[15]. Illustrate how daily routines will change in vivid terms, and why not, build fiction-characters to guide the narrative.

You need it to scale interventions. You will have to answer the question of “how much Change Management is needed”. Fuzzy answers lead to half-baked actions.

Finally, we cannot insist enough on its usefulness to build empathy. This is no small feat. Having a clear understanding of what people are about to go through is all what you need to better coach and design a user-centric solution.

Adoption rates will soar, while also building a renewed sense of community.

 


[1] These aspects are pretty self-explanatory, but you might still want to go through PROSCI´s definitions before moving on. See:  https://www.prosci.com/resources/articles/defining-change-impact

[2] Critical behaviors refer to “the vital or essential response of an individual or group to an action, environment, person or stimulus.” It can be the way an employee responds to a client or collaborate, to the same end, with other relevant departments.

[3] « L’envie de retourner au bureau est bien présente auprès de la moitié des travailleurs, à condition de bénéficier d’un maximum de flexibilité », People Sphere.be, 28/05/2020. Survey conducted by Hays and involving 1400 respondents worldwide. See: https://peoplesphere.be/fr/lenvie-de-retourner-bureau-bien-presente-aupres-de-moitie-travailleurs-a-condition-de-beneficier-dun-maximum-de-flexibilite/

[4] Près de deux Belges sur trois veulent télétravailler au moins deux jours semaine, L´Echo, 22/04/2020. Survey conducted by BDO and involving 1000 respondents in Belgium. See: https://www.lecho.be/dossiers/coronavirus/pres-de-deux-belges-sur-trois-veulent-teletravailler-au-moins-deux-jours-semaine/10222022

[5] As cited in : « Près de deux Belges sur trois veulent télétravailler au moins deux jours semaine », L´Echo, 22/04/2020.

[6] Ibid. Figure put forward by BDO. See « Près de deux Belges sur trois veulent télétravailler au moins deux jours semaine », L´Echo, 22/04/2020.

[8] « Max Jadot (BNP Paribas Fortis): "Il y a une peur à retourner travailler, il faudra rassurer" », L´Echo. See : https://www.lecho.be/dossiers/coronavirus/max-jadot-bnp-paribas-fortis-il-y-a-une-peur-a-retourner-travailler-il-faudra-rassurer/10223016.html

[9] See Grenny, J. « 5 Tips for Safely Reopening Your Office », Harvard Business Review, 05/05/2020. [online]  https://hbr.org/2020/05/5-tips-for-safely-reopening-your-office?utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter_daily&utm_campaign=mtod_notactsubs

[10] See Hammer H. and Lindsey, A. « Lead with empathy during the COVID-19 crisis », 17/04/2020. [online] https://theconversation.com/lead-with-empathy-during-the-covid-19-crisis-135175

[11] Taylor, S. and PROSCI (blog), “The power of gratitude”. 

[12] Based on PROSCI (blog), “Defining Change Impact”. See: https://www.prosci.com/resources/articles/defining-change-impact

[13] See Grenny, J. « 5 Tips for Safely Reopening Your Office », Harvard Business Review, 05/05/2020.

[14] See Grenny, J. « 5 Tips for Safely Reopening Your Office », Harvard Business Review, 05/05/2020.

[15] See Grenny, J. « 5 Tips for Safely Reopening Your Office », Harvard Business Review, 05/05/2020.

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