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Managing Workplace Change: A People-Based Perspective

Successfully Managing Workplace Change is Critical to Project Success

There’s no question about it. Workplaces are changing—because the nature of work and the role of the workplace in business strategy are changing (O’Neill and Wymer, 2011). Organizations of all sizes, across all sectors, are re-planning and re-configuring their workplaces to better attune them to the work processes and workstyles at hand.

If your organization is planning such a change, you are not alone. Knoll has worked with many customers through the process of implementing workplace changes—some simple, some quite complex. Whatever the size of the enterprise or the scope of the project, the success of change management comes down to addressing the concerns, anxieties and expectations of the people involved. This paper shares some of our experiences and insights and offers a few guidelines for successfully managing the challenge.

Five Trends Are Dramatically Changing Work and the Workplace

Organizations are implementing a wide variety of changes to their workspace, ranging from a simple shift to open planning and lower horizons at a single location, to complex enterprise-wide programs that offer new types of workspaces and planning approaches. These changes are greatly altering the way people work (Ouye, 2011).

Five broad trends are driving these changes:

1. The War for Talent—the increasing dependence on a cadre of key workers with complex skills in problem solving and other high-level activities

2. Mobile Technology—the ability for people to work virtually anywhere, inside and outside the office

3. The Mandate to Innovate—the need for organizations to innovate in order to remain competitive

4. Distributed Work—the evolution toward less centralized organizational structures, locations and work practices

5. Sustainability—the need to reduce the organization’s carbon footprint to save energy costs and to meet LEED requirements

Workplace Change Management Helps Employees Get Back to Work More Quickly and Effectively

While there are good business reasons for changes in the workplace, employees frequently feel threatened by the process. The natural resistance to change that often emerges must be managed for a successful transition to new workspace.

Workplace change management is a process for engaging with employees who are about to experience workplace change. Its goal is to help people more quickly (and happily) adjust to new workspaces and new ways of working. Good change management lets people get back to work faster and feel more satisfied with their change experience—and the new space.

Employees need support before, during and after the move to a new workspace. A change management program is a useful process for successfully managing employee transitions. There is no one right way. Managing workplace change takes time and focus. The communication has to go both ways. It is critical to ask people for input, to address concerns as they arise, to identify the influencers within employee groups and to engage them in your efforts.

Different people will adjust at different rates. Don’t expect 100% buy-in at the start, but don’t let issues go unaddressed. Open communication goes a long way toward building credibility and acceptance.

The scope of a workplace change and its associated workplace change program can vary widely (Figure 1). Your change management process should respond to the size and complexity of your project and the culture of your organization.