Stabilise, sustain and strive towards a new future: Managing change in a remote working world

A lot has been said about the pace and scope of change that much of Australia’s workforce has undergone over recent weeks and months. It’s understandable - we haven’t experienced change of this nature before, and few organisations are equipped to handle such a rapid shift to near-total remote working.

Under normal circumstances, major organisational changes are executed over several months. This gives HR professionals time to articulate what the ‘new world’ will look like in a thoughtful way, and help employees understand what the changes will mean for them. 

In recent times, however, the desired human-centred approach has been difficult. Organisations have had to ‘flip the switch’ and get people using remote working technologies almost overnight, with minimal training or communication. This has left employees feeling stressed and resistant to the changes, and employers scrambling to help their workforce adapt to the ‘new normal’.

In light of so much uncertainty, the biggest challenge HR professionals face is figuring out how to stabilise and sustain the new way of working, providing meaningful support to create a positive employee experience both in the short- and longer-term.

Despite social distancing protocols having been in place for several weeks now, most workers are still coming to terms with the changes to their professional life, rather than thriving from a positive employee experience. With this in mind, HR professionals should be taking simple steps to help their colleagues adapt, including:

  1. Rapidly assess and articulate the “what’s changing” story, to accelerate awareness and understanding of features, functionalities, and new ways of working that help create a positive user experience in the remote environment.
  2. Evolve communication and training programs to provide more information and support to employees, so they are better equipped to adopt new ways of working. At Avanade, we organized twice-weekly all-employee calls to provide timely and transparent updates that help our teams feel connected and cared for. We keep each other informed on new flexibility initiatives, volunteer days, reminders on where to go for support and ways we are creating genuine human impact on our colleagues, clients and communities.
  3. Make it as easy as possible for employees to know where they can get support, whether it is for HR and COVID-19-related issues or for building their own capabilities to be successful in the ‘new normal’.
  4. Work with your business leaders to ensure they are monitoring the situation and listening to their teams, and be prepared to deliver some courageous authenticity in your coaching. One thing that doesn’t change in HR is keeping the ‘human’ in Human Resources. HR cares for the workforce as a whole, the leaders they work with and the broader employee population. Be prepared that while some members of your workforce will be energised by the changes they are experiencing, others may feel tired as they juggle competing demands and be taking it day by day. How we behave as HR and as leaders now sets the tone for our organisation’s culture moving forward.

These short-term solutions are just the beginning, however. HR professionals need to evaluate the cultural impacts of a sustained digitised workplace experience, as well as considering the strategic implications for operating models, productivity, and employee connection.

Even before we entered this period of extreme change, old ways of working were swiftly becoming impediments. In our recent ‘Ready by Design’ research 83% of leaders thought historical approaches, strategies and techniques were holding them back from competing against digital natives. With the sudden pivot to a distributed workforce, and the likelihood of a complete return to old ways of working looking slim, these ‘outdated’ approaches will only become more of a hindrance if they aren’t addressed now.

This is no doubt a turbulent time. HR professionals must act decisively in the short term while also developing new capabilities and ways of working to enable longer-term changes to how they operate. However, it’s also a time of opportunity for HR teams, who are key to ensuring employees remain productive and engaged, and the business harnesses the maximum potential from remote working. While we are navigating our new normal it can feel challenging to galvanise everyone towards a business or client goal but with technology, leadership and taking everyone on the journey, it can be done.

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