Moving to the Hybrid Workplace: How ADP and Otis Managed the Change.
Article written by Renaud de Lombaert
Article written by Renaud de Lombaert
The process of hybridisation involves the shift to remote working and, in some instances, the creation of a flex office. We have conducted interviews with Otis and ADP to get the big picture and understand how they deal with the change(s).
1. Sponsors can make or break the change, but sponsorship deficiencies are quite common. The case of ADP highlights the role of CM practitioners, not as substitutes to leaders in sponsoring the change, but as enabling forces. While CM experts lack proper authority or proximity to the field, a close working relationship with managers can prove successful in advancing the agenda and driving the change.
2. The importance of ensuring bidirectional communications early on to improve project success rates is particularly clear in the case of Otis. It is also not a matter of sticking to the playbook, but of getting creative to establish feedback loops and communicate effectively. Coopting the right “influencers” and finding the right tone can have a massive impact on adoption.
In seeking to co-create the new workplace with managers and impacted people, both ADP and Otis have built Awareness and Desire, providing the strongest foundations for the cultural change (see ADKAR model).
Nobody can question that the workplace, once so familiar, has quickly become uncharted territory. In an inexorable march towards downsizing the office space, some places are being co-shared, relocated, and in most extreme scenarios, scheduled to disappear in a not-so-distant future. Remote working is now part of the new normal, with agreements coming in multiple shapes and forms. Whatever the case may be, Covid-19-induced changes are bound to leave a lasting mark.
Forward-thinking organisations envision a hybrid future for the workplace, one where keeping people engaged in virtual, decentralised, and anonymised environments is quickly rising to the top of the corporate governance agenda. Leaders and Change practitioners face the difficult task of turning these changes into sustainable and cost-efficient practices, but most importantly, more human-centered practices.
Nothing should be left to chance. The hybrid workplace must be planned and organised. The case(s) of Aéroports de Paris (and) Otis give us insights from early responses. There is much food for thought in these inspiring stories.
“Hybrid workplace”, “flexible workweek”, “flex office”: new terms are coined as post-pandemic policies are being pushed forward. But the hybrid model - if there is any - is very much in its early days. Tales of trial and error abound, and not every organisation is the same. With ADP and Otis, we are offered a glimpse of how the move is managed in terms of teleworking or space utilisation.
From ad hoc remote working to de facto hybrid working... In Aéroports de Paris, the shift towards remote working started in 2017, after the head office was relocated. Early pre-crisis agreements on remote working were not intended to be rigid frameworks but rather guidelines encouraging new working routines. People were first given the opportunity to work remotely 1 fixed day per week or a 2 adjustable days per month before the agreement was revised to allow further extensions. Aéroports de Paris has long avoided using the term “hybrid working”. Because the label encapsulated a vision not yet adopted by the staff, it was thought to defeat the purpose of co-creating the future of the workplace. And then the Covid-19 crisis erupted, pushing more people into remote work and creating a de facto situation. “This opened the gateway” of hybrid working, solidifying the gains of previous attempts and, while the crisis settled down, getting more people on board for bigger rotating shifts. The motto was slowly becoming “if it has been done before, it can be done again”. For Aéroports de Paris, this meant moving away from an ad hoc, individually based approach to a collective reflection on how to efficiently organise teams. The term hybrid was eventually introduced in a dedicated webinar, testifying to the importance of the shift.
…towards a flex office. In Otis-France’s headquarters, the hybridisation process has given rise to a project of Flex Office that reflects the impact of the crisis on space utilisation beyond the emergence of remote working. In a nutshell, Otis defined several “anchor points” along with a “flex ratio” and deduced the number of individualised areas to keep (coming from an already full open space layout). The remaining space was transformed into collective areas, a large “conviviality space” per floor and personal storage spaces (“espace casiers”). If the project stemmed from a strategic need, it evolved according to people’s needs. Otis established feedback loops early on, involving commissions of collaborators and managers, trade unions, and a network of “ambassadors” who acted as touchpoints and relays to discuss practical aspects.
While ADP’s story starts as one of nudging, Otis also demonstrates consistent effort to involve impacted people early on.
No change is ever a smooth ride, let alone when a crisis of such magnitude hits the world without warning. Role-based Change Management stresses the importance of sponsors, managers and CM practitioners along the journey. But on the ground, coping mechanisms also show a heavier reliance on CM experts to support sponsors, a constant push to get managers on board, and the emergence of idiosyncratic figures to advocate and cascade the change.
CM practitioners, also sponsoring the change. In the case of ADP, CM practitioners have played a role in being more active (A) and visible than usually required throughout the process to ensure steady progress, building (B) a coalition that would generate buy-in and communicating (C) directly with employees (ABC). ADP planted the seeds of the change by leveraging a network of managers already favourable to testing and establishing remote working routines. And through continued dialogue with collaborators, CM was able to offer tailored solutions that would fit people’s needs (a complimentary screen to work from home, multiple remote working rhythms to accommodate a functionally diverse workforce, etc…), thereby further driving adoption. As surveys showed a convergence of views between impacted people, trade unions and leadership to press forward with remote working, the change proved to be well on track.
Reaffirming the importance of middle management. The main takeaway from ADP’s story is the critical role of managers as drivers of change. Otis further highlights the need to give them greater visibility as first contact points for any practical and individual concerns. Collaborators sometimes turned to CM to find answers to their questions. Committed managers are expected to liaise with frontline employees and smooth individual transitions from the outset. But as stated by Otis, getting them fully on board remains a big part of the challenge. Not only that. The crisis has also amplified the need to provide them with extra support. The acceleration of digitisation proved intimidating from an operational perspective (document sharing, hybrid communication, and difficulty picking on non-verbal cues). Similar concerns have been voiced at ADP, alluding to the possible loss of team cohesion and obvious problem to cultivate weak ties.
“Ambassadors” as creative figures of Change Management. Otis built a network of “ambassadors” to enable the implementation of the flex office and promote the change. Otis appointed one person per anchor point or direction to liaise with on-site collaborators, leaders, and CM practitioners. Interestingly, it was not the director but an experienced collaborator with demonstrated leadership skills and influence. These ambassadors also helped people ease into the new space. In this sense, ambassadors perform an original and complementary role to more traditional figures, ensuring that the Change Lead and managers in charge of traditional CLARC missions (Communicator, Liaison, Advocate, Resistance Manager, Coach) are provided with proper feedback.
There has been no shortage of initiatives in ADP and Otis to drive and manage the hybridisation process. Although we cannot account for all of them, here are some of the most exciting features.
Otis: special sessions for managers and targeted workshops. Echoing the need to provide extra support to managers, Otis organised dedicated live sessions to explain the Flex Office project. Those ran parallel to the discussions held between the network of ambassadors and frontline employees. In addition, two workshops were conducted to collect managers’ specific concerns. However, it is important to note that while the Flex Office was a turning point, it is the shift to remote working that seemed to have the heaviest impact on how managers play their roles. Well-equipped with CM knowledge and methods, Otis capacity was also nurtured by PROSCI’s guidelines on leading teams through change.
ADP: Think Time organisational tool for managers and multi-topics online training. Perhaps one of the most striking features of the arsenal of internal tools deployed at ADP is the custom-built “Think Time”, which seeks to help managers organise remote working and resolve practical issues in a structured way. Think Time gives managers an outlet to exchange and identify which structuring activities should be carried out in a team, and which can be done remotely. Once completed at the collective level, each collaborator then registers what can be done offsite and for how long. On the training front, ADP also held multiple webinars covering a wide range of timely topics, such as emotional intelligence, hybrid communication, hybrid management, resistance management, and working with and through uncertainty.
Tracking progress formally and informally. ADP conducted multiple surveys at multiple times to measure adherence to remote working measures and set new goals. Moreover, the heavy emphasis placed on assisting managers contributed to qualitative feedback. The same goes for Otis, who conducted interviews and drew feedback from appointed ambassadors.
Awareness and Desire as the first building blocks of change. No matter how well equipped the people and how good the tools are, change measures can fail or backfire if awareness and desire stages are not correctly dealt with. ADP’s approach - and early success - is a clear reminder of this. The organisation avoided “dogmatism in favour of more open stances” in an effort to make sure people were truly sensitised, willing to embrace more extensive remote working measures, and able to incorporate these new organisational methods at their own pace.
Communicate, listen and then, listen some more. According to Otis, clear processes and clear rules explained in plain terms translate into fewer accompanying measures (the “Knowledge building block” here described is also critical). But the main contributor to helping people accept the new “deal” was probably cultivating dialogue, diligently acting on feedback, and tweaking the program. Communication was also critical to “kill” early resistance to the process of space anonymisation. Otis did not hesitate to think outside the box. The company released a bi-weekly newssheet with an offbeat style and quirky tone to set the rules for the Flex Office (“computer equipment shouldn’t be unplugged”) and ignite the cycle of acculturation. ADP efforts echo Otis’, insisting on the importance of listening carefully to managers and reminding them to do the same for their team given the dynamic nature of the project and fast-changing context. Cultural changes cannot be force-fed, and this is exactly why bidirectional communication is so a critical in managing the change.
Leverage culture or previous attempts. However, ADP also points out that communication alone – here on teleworking – is a necessary requirement but not the only one. Unconscious obstacles may still stand in the way and may not dissolve that easily. Leveraging preexisting cultural traits – part of the staff was used to moving between Roissy, Orly and Le Bourget – and previous attempts at establishing remote working policies was key to “organically” boost adoption.
Perhaps this provides the final word: the process of hybridisation should be treated as a cultural change, one that is full of human challenges. As ADP noted, it was all too easy to be blinded by the technical aspects of the change and address those issues in priority. But then the crisis came along and swept away the workplace as we knew it. And, like it or not, that also meant the organisational culture. So if CM tools and resources might have been lacking in the early days, now is the time to “think long-term” and build true CM capacities.
 Interviews were conducted with Aéroports de Paris and Otis in October 2021.