By William Lam, Group Innovation Director
23rd June, 2021
Where does a modern workplace start its journey? Does modernisation get triggered by cultural change, or is modernisation defined as technical change?
Since the options are somewhat dichotomous, if you had to pick one, the answer is – neither. A journey towards workplace modernisation should simultaneously take the cultural and technical elements into account. Successful workplace transformation projects change the cultural and technical aspects in harmony. Technology alone cannot drive modernisation in an organisation. Similarly, culture alone cannot enable the modernisation of the workplace.
Preparing for workplace transformation must start with an explicit sense of purpose, an unwavering desire for change and a focus on the business and human elements simultaneously.
Readiness must be underpinned by change management
The transition to a modern workplace is, in essence, a journey of change. Change is a human process. Behavioural psychology educates us about our natural resistance to change. For change to be accepted, an organisation must deeply anticipate the workforce’s needs, develop a deep understanding of their home and office environments, and create solutions that improve the workspace in all relevant environments.
My suggestion to leadership and project teams involved with modernisation projects is to support the modern workplace with a robust change management framework from its inception.
Business readiness for the modern workplace
The need for a modern workplace strategy is already here. COVID-19 ushered in a forced era of modernisation. Whether your organisation was ready for remote work or not, we have arrived here already. Further modernisation will depend on how you define the modern workplace and the extent to which you stretch the notion of ‘modern’ within your organisation.
Many organisations deem working remotely as modernised enough. A modern workplace, in its truest essence, includes various facets of modernisation. The business’ strategy, the go-to-market, the choice of products and services offered, consequently the real estate choices, the leadership mandate, the management style, talent acquisition decisions, the hardware devices that the workforce uses, the stack of collaboration software leveraged, the cultural elements, the security aspect etc. It collectively encompasses the modern workplace.
The term ‘modern workplace’ must not be limited to remote working. Beyond remote working, organisations must execute several projects relevant to workplace modernisation. Pertinent to note that modernisation is not a destination. It is an ongoing journey with several milestones. I will add that the milestones must have a human element and a business element. No modernisation milestone adds real and measurable value unless it checks the ‘human’ and the ‘business’ scorecards. Please note that the above-mentioned change management framework applies to various projects of modernisation you undertake.
The most important aspect that must be covered upfront is leadership’s buy-in, commitment and genuine support for the journey of a modern workplace.
In my experience, there are four primary levers of change that deliver a unique set of processes, tools, and techniques to enable the change towards a modern workplace strategy:
The catalyst for change
COVID-19 became a catalyst for change. Before that, businesses undertook journeys of modernisation to address issues surrounding collaboration, communication and performance. Before embarking on any modernisation journey, you must be very clear about why you are starting the journey and what precisely is the end destination or the milestone. Do employees need better ways to communicate with customers or collaborate internally? Is the business losing the war for talent to competitors who have modernised their approach to the workplace? Does the business desire more participation and engagement from people at all levels? Be very clear on the desired end state. That should be the trigger for change.
Establish change that aligns with all stakeholders
Identifying the use cases and real-world scenarios that will build the case for change will help commence the journey of change. Organisations must analyse how the workplace modernisation journey will impact different stakeholders within the business and outside it. You must engage the wider workforce by giving people a platform to bring ideas and lessons learned last year. This would help your executives understand where precisely the workforce wants to see change. Then, you can prioritise projects based on what the people want and align them with your business priorities.
The leadership suite will need to believe in, commit to and sponsor the modern workplace to make it successful. Change is difficult. It takes persistence, time and effort. Having the executive layer support the change will help the organisation pull together during the tougher times of the transition.
In my experience, a modern workplace roadmap helps leadership:
- lead the change journey
- advocate the change to employees
- explain the reasons for the change
- build a network of support from senior leadership and management
Communication builds awareness and motivates people to understand new ways of working. Targeted communications with meaningful, vital messages help employees progress through the various stages of a modernisation lifecycle. The communication pathways must flow two ways. You should consider setting up feedback processes to keep communication flowing in two directions. Responding to these requests addresses individual concerns but helps identify and build your modern workplace evangelists.
Champion and peer support programs
Research suggests that people want to hear about changes from their direct line manager or a trusted teammate. On-the-job coaching and knowledge can help people adopt the modern workplace collectively.
Managing resistance is the most complicated part of the change journey, and you should manage it in a structured and deliberate manner. To achieve complete user adoption, even the most resistant to change employees must get on board with the modern workplace journey. When good training, support, and communication fail to get all users on board with the change, invoke your executive sponsors – they can be the vital key to getting resistance managed. A convincing (or even strong) word from executive leadership is sometimes essential to manage the resistance.
Cultural readiness for the modern workplace
Your colleagues will have mixed reactions to the concept of a modern workplace. In my experience, the modern workplace initiatives lead to the following reaction categories:
- Old School
- No Rules
- The Middle Ground
The Old School takes the view that their colleagues need to be immediately accessible. They prefer people in the office where they can be physically seen and accounted for. To them, the modern workplace is a breakdown of proper structure.
No Rules people take things a little too far. If a modern workplace means they can have more physical flexibility for work, they may take additional liberties – the sort of things the Old School expresses concerns about. They see the modern workplace as a weakness open to exploitation.
The Middle Ground is where you want people to be. They appreciate the flexibility and advantages available in a modern workplace without taking advantage of change. They appreciate the modern workplace strategy for what it should be and would like it to flourish in the long term.
Getting people culturally ready for the modern workplace means thinking ahead about reactions from people, positive and negative, and talking openly about the new way of being. Think about those in the Middle Ground and use them as part of your Early Adopter programs.
Modernisation of the workplace requires you to manoeuvre the cultural and technical aspects in harmony. In this blog, I have hopefully shed some light on the ‘cultural’ aspects of workplace modernisation.
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