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How to Overcome Resistance to Change in the Hybrid Workplace

by Erin Sevitz on March 17, 2022
RECOMMENDED WEBINAR
A Guide for Getting Workplace Change Right for Employees
 

Learning how to overcome resistance to change is more important than ever in today's hybrid workplace, when change is the only constant.

Many people resist change because they fear the unknown. They often focus more on what they believe they'll have to give up while underestimating what they'll gain, especially in the workplace. One example might be moving to a  smaller office space when people have become accustomed to a large corporate headquarters. While there are many benefits — including giving your workforce more flexibility to work remotely and come to the office as needed — employees might worry about where they'll park, where they'll sit, and who will be in the office on any given day. They might also be concerned about whether they'll be able to collaborate and concentrate effectively in the new office space. 

Managing change in the workplace has been a common theme of our webinars and Workplace Innovator podcast over the years. Hear what some of our guests have to say on the topic and what you can do to make the transition as smooth as possible. 

How to overcome resistance to change

  • Start with 'why'
  • Focus on individuals
  • Find new ways to strengthen employee relationships
  • Identify the root cause of resistance
  • Involve executive leadership
  • Identify dysfunctional patterns
  • Communicate effectively
  • Use the right technology

Start with 'why'

With every change, employees ultimately want to know what's in it for them.  If you haven't made that clear, you're bound to encounter resistance to change at every step in the process. 

Before you begin implementing major changes in your workplace, start by sharing the objectives you hope to achieve and how the changes will benefit employees. If reducing your office real estate will allow you to increase your budget for payroll so you can grow your team and pay higher salaries, lead with that. 

Focus on individuals

The biggest reason leaders encounter resistance to change is they fail to account for the human impact of it, said Andrea Sanchez, executive director of SparkStory consulting, in a podcast about managing change. While you may initially communicate changes to a large group, you need to understand how those changes affect each individual. 

"Everyone's wired differently, so rather than going through one change process, you're going through 20 different change management processes. Do you know where they're coming from and what they're assuming? "

Find new ways to strengthen employee relationships

Teams work better when they understand one another on a personal level. To cultivate a strong company culture with beneficial organizational behavior and foster deeper connections between employees, create opportunities for your staff to socialize that doesn’t involve work.

Happy hours, company-sponsored events, group outings, and volunteer opportunities have traditionally helped to forge stronger employee relationships. In today's more distributed workplace,  you'll need to find more creative ways to engage employees. That might include a combination of online experiences companies like Airbnb are now offering, making time for smaller breakout group discussions during company meetings, and finding more meaningful ways to bring employees together in person.   

Identify the root cause of resistance

There are many telltale signs that employees are resisting change. They may complain more than usual, miss key meetings, or bluntly refuse to participate in new initiatives. It’s important to recognize when resistance is becoming an issue for organizational behavior, but it’s even more important to understand why your employees are pushing back in the first place. The most common causes of resistance include:

  • Lack of awareness about why changes are being made
  • Fear of how the change will impact job roles
  • Failed attempts at change in the past
  • Lack of visible support and commitment from managers
  • Fear of job loss

By identifying why employees are resisting change, you can better decide how to overcome resistance to change head-on. If lack of awareness or fear is the problem, greater communication and discussion groups may help support more positive organizational behavior. If change has failed in the past, and employees aren’t confident this time will be different, you can discuss specific ways the organization has learned from its mistakes and how it plans to use this insight to successfully implement new initiatives.

Involve executive leadership

You cannot successfully implement change without support from all levels of business. Your employees take cues from the executive team, and if leadership doesn’t adhere to the plan for change management, it’s very likely your organizational behavior will change either. Encourage company leaders to set an example, and the rest will follow.

Identify dysfunctional patterns

Research from McKinsey shows that 70% of all change initiatives fail to achieve the stated objectives.  Siobhan McHale, author of The Insider's Guide to Culture Change, said many of these failures happen because leaders try to implement technical fixes without addressing underlying patterns or habits. 

"The first step is to see what's really going on in the workplace and the patterns that are keeping you stuck," McHale said.

She recalled working at a bank where the head office was in the habit of giving orders while the individual branches was in the habit of taking orders without question. Each was blaming each other for poor customer service. The first step to overcoming resistance to change started with breaking that pattern. 

Communicate effectively

By clearly and concisely explaining why the change is taking place, how it will impact each employee’s job, and exactly what is expected of each employee before, during, and after rollout — nothing is left to question.

But simply stating the obvious isn’t enough. Leaders need to make a conscious effort to speak to individuals in the way they prefer. To this end, make certain communication technologies are in place for those who wish to utilize them. It’s also important not to discount how quickly older generations have adapted to technology. Sometimes, all they need is a little training to feel more comfortable using new tools.

Do change right the first time

Failed attempts to change aspects of your organizational behavior will have a negative effect on how employees view future initiatives. If you’re going to make a change, make sure you’re doing everything in your power to ensure it’s successful and set realistic timelines. Many companies fail to successfully implement change because they overload employees and expect near-immediate gratification. The reality of change management boils down to one fact: It takes time.

Break the initiative down into stages and guide employees through the process to ensure, at each mile marker, adaptations are unfolding correctly to support the next stage of change.

Use the right workplace technology

The open-systems approach theory of organizational behavior holds that an organization is impacted by its environment because they exchange information, energy, or resources.

The most successful work environments are those that are proactive, responsive, and intuitive. With proper customization, implementation, training, and support, technology can actually help bridge gaps between employees and departments and lead the way to positive organizational behavior.

Consider implementing an integrated workplace management system to streamline processes and optimize assets. Mobile apps like iOFFICE Hummingbird and Serraview Engage can also provide your workforce with more freedom and flexibility. Invest in the latest communication and collaboration tools to encourage your employees to interact and work with one another in new ways. Finally, choose to partner with an office solutions provider you can trust to provide quality service from start to finish.

When your office is agile, adaptable and equipped to handle change, your employees will be, too. 

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 By planning ahead, knowing how the context of the workplace impacts organizational behavior, listening to employees, and setting them up with the right tools and technologies, you can help them learn how to use each other’s strengths and weaknesses to overcome challenges and become more accepting of change.

Change is never easy, but it's inevitable.

Want more tips on managing change in the workplace? Watch a recording of our webinar featuring a conversation with Emily Klein, Director of Workplace at Perkins&Will, and Dr. Melissa Steach, I-O Psychologist and Workplace Wellbeing Lead at Herman Miller Group.

Capterra Ratings: ★★★★★ 4.5/5

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