Making a resolution for successful workplace change in 2016

The start of any New Year inevitably means our heads are filled with ideas of change. This is inevitable for the start of any new period of time, but is also a by-product of the fact that the Christmas break is one of the few chances we get to allow our minds to dance, unencumbered by the distractions of emails, routines and all of the other sappers of time from the daily grind.  It’s a time we take stock, plan and allow our unconscious mind to get down to some serious creative thinking.

New year, new changes

So it’s no wonder that we turf up back to work with list and a new sense of resolve. This is often about personal issues such as becoming healthier and devoting more time to the things we enjoy and the people we love. But it is also likely to involve changes to the way we work and if you’re a business leader, addressing what you see as the major challenges and opportunities facing your business.

Inevitably this will include a reassessment of the offices of many organisations. This is never a straightforward undertaking and the reasons for doing it will be directly related to the strategic objectives as well as the day to day activities of the organisation. Whether you are relocating or looking for change in an existing space, office design is directly associated with the growth (or contraction) of the business, its identity and culture, proximity to customers and talent, its response to wider commercial, social and economic trends and – not least – the costs of owning a property. The design and location of an office can not only reflect changes in these areas, but also catalyse them.

None of this is ever taken lightly. Even with a clear vision, such profound change is beset with difficulty and always has been. As Niccolo Machiavelli wrote in his legendary book The Prince in the sixteenth century:

“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, this lukewarmness arising partly from fear of their adversaries … and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had actual experience of it.”

Understanding the need for change

It is this last point that lies at the heart of executing change successfully, as we highlight in our recent white paper on the subject. Change succeeds when people buy into an idea. When it comes to relocations or changes in office design this means the battles must be engaged for both hearts and minds as well as bricks and mortar. People must understand how a relentlessly and rapidly evolving world must be reflected in the places they work and what it all means for them and the success of the organisation.

Acknowledging how change can fail

Typically there are a number of reasons why change fails from within an organisation and they often apply for all sorts of change programmes and not just changes to the working environment.

• There may be a strong resistance to the implementation of new work practices.

• People fail to understand that change is a means to an end and not an end in itself.

• There is insufficient attention paid to planning and the integration of culture, the physical environment and technology.

• The change programme lacks a clear vision, so people do not understand why the change is needed.

• Goals are set but too far in the future. Employees may need some quick wins as well.

• There is insufficient focus on the chance to re-evaluate the whole nature of the organisation.

• Communication lags behind the grapevine. Don’t underestimate the power of rumours.

• People are unduly risk-averse.

• The organisation may be a victim of its own success if people look to a successful past as the best guide to the future.

• There is a failure to provide incentives for staff to change their behaviour or to communicate to them the benefits of the new culture.

• Employees are not prepared for change and the organisation has perhaps failed to provide them with the training or technology needed to adapt.

Realising the benefits of change

None of these are insurmountable challenges and, indeed, the process of communicating properly, helping people understand why the change is important and winning their backing is likely to make them champions rather than resistors of change. What is essential is to develop a positive connection between their own needs and motivations and the organisation’s new direction.  People will then realise the benefits of the new location or new office design and how it provides them with an integrated physical and technological infrastructure that can help them work more flexibly and in ways that suit them better.