Change management – making workplace moves a success

Biologically, humans aren’t programmed to adapt to change easily. Years of evolving has allowed us to stay in keeping with our environment, so we don’t like it when that environment suddenly changes. It means quick adaption and that’s something not many people are born with.

Psychologists have understood this and proven that this is caused by our natural resistance. Thinking positively, all you need therefore are people-oriented solutions to solve the problems, not just practical ones.

Before Covid-19, few things touched everyone in the workplace like the thought of moving. This is because there is a wave of emotion to wade through before you even begin to consider the technicalities of moving. Whether these changes are embodied in good or bad emotions, they still need to be worked through.

As project managers, we sometimes see great plans thwarted, often for a lack of authentic leadership and a failure to offer positive endorsement. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be such a struggle, if you employ a few simple strategies. 

Businesses evolve, and the layout, practices and assumptions that underpinned them when you first moved in may no longer be valid. When the enormity of the task abates, it’s time to relish the opportunity presented and upgrade every aspect to scale.

For the most part, moving workplace should be viewed as an exciting opportunity, because it is. Let your staff know this. It’s a way to sort out any current problems within the office, such as tricky layouts, lack of space to encourage productivity and change of workplace needs. It can be an opportunity to develop what’s already been built within the business and take on board the needs and wants of your staff – this is particularly important in industries where labour shortages are on the increase as maintaining staff should be a priority.

Of course, there are downsides, and it’s important not to shy away from these and consider them upfront. Employees need to be reassured that their concerns are being heard and moving office has impacts amongst them too.

Changing the location of a business is a lot more complex than many first think. It’s a technical challenge first of all; there is bound to be a short-term disruption in workload and the logistics of this need to be managed.  Occasionally there is also an administrative and legal ordeal, considering current contracts, rent and expenditure. Ultimately though, it’s an exercise in carefully managing all aspects of change, and as such it needs to be delivered carefully from the top down. 

So, here are our tips for maximising the office move experience:

  • Be clear about what you want to get out of the move. Apart from its surroundings, how will the business look and operate in the new space? Who will operate from it, how and why?
  • If you’re leasing, future proof the space by anticipating what changes could occur over the life of the lease. What goals do you need to prepare for and work towards? Look to the recent past and try to project forwards.
  • Send a positive message and lead by example. Meaningful change requires organisational change, and for it to be real and lasting, it needs to be endorsed by the organisation’s members.
  • Seek out and employ respected staff to act as ‘change agents’. Pick someone who will happily engage with staff about the plans, enthuse about the change being positive for both the staff and the business and act as a liaison for those with concerns.
  • Be both structured and open in your approach. Anticipate and deal with objections (increased commuting time is just one example), and consider what the business will and will not do to accommodate staff before you begin the process. Remember, everyone will have their limits so you should aim to only lose the people that you can afford to lose, so plan carefully.
  • Lock in the benefits of change and resist the temptation to just ‘lift and shift’ your current habits. Adopt a three-step model:
    1. Unfreeze – Open the business up to new ideas and practices aligned with its objectives;
    2. Change – Introduce the desired changes and the impacts they will have;
    3. Re-freeze – Systemically and culturally lock in the desired changes, don’t slip backwards.

In every business case the first option is always to do nothing. Change, moving from one state to another, is always a challenge, sometimes too daunting to implement, especially when moving from the known to the unknown. But in the business world, like in the natural world, change is the currency of survival. Any business, even the biggest and best, that continues to do the same thing in the same old way, will run afoul of the market. Don’t wait until you’re completely pot-bound before beginning to open up to change.  

Successful businesses look upon change as an opportunity to create advantage. The best way to make change sustainable is to share widely the benefits with those most affected by the change, to gain their trust and keep them aboard. 

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