With Ireland's vaccine roll-out underway and due to ramp-up in the months ahead, we can begin to hope that "the end is truly in sight."
Over the next two quarters, businesses will begin to plan for a gradula re-opening of the economy and return to the offices they left behind in March 2020.
However, notwithstanding the fact that we will be returning to our workplaces, the ways in which we work changed radically during this global experiment in remote working.
Managing our transition back into the office is already beginning to weigh on the minds of managers as we gradually put the pandemic behind us. Consequently, it’s a priority to develop solutions that will allow organisations to successfully adopt hybrid work practices.
All these changes will require organisational leaders to think beyond the environmental, technological and logistical challenges to be overcome as we re-open our offices. The most important thing is to fully consider how to support employees through yet another transition.
After all, over the course of the last 12 months, the pace of change has been constant. In many cases employees have become more autonomous, power structures have been altered and roles have been redefined.
These fundamental shifts serve to complicate what already is a complex and difficult process that requires a huge amount of buy-in from everyone within your organisation.
As most experienced managers acknowledge, without popular support and the endorsement from key individuals, change projects have a tendency to fail.
In fact, it is estimated that somewhere between 60-70 percent of change projects fail in a variety of ways, ranging from unrealistic timetables being agreed upon to miscommunicating with suppliers.
It’s for this reason that UCC’s Project Centre employs a proven change management methodology, Prosci ADKAR. UCC Academy has several team members trained in Prosci ADKAR methods, which provide a comprehensive way to set out vision for change management. With this in mind, organisations must develop a very clear vision for our return to the workplace.
Fortunately, every member of your team will be aware of the transformative nature of the pandemic and that further changes to their working environment are forthcoming. In the vast majority of cases, there will also be a desire to support those necessary adjustments.
However, in order to maintain the goodwill that has been generated over the last 12 months, managers will need to establish a degree of consensus surrounding the expectations of hybrid working.
In fact, every opportunity should be afforded to people so that they feel valued and that their voice is being included in the decision-making process. Management will need to engage with people consistently through surveys and workshops, and key decisions will need to be announced quickly.
Doing so will allow leaders to articulate the company’s vision clearly, so people understand what is expected of them, the amount of time they will be working remotely and how some of the more technical challenges will be overcome.
Management will also need to make sure that people feel safe when returning to the office and that every effort has been made to create an environment that promotes effective hygiene practices. For those units that are considering the adoption of hot desking, this will add to the complexities of the post pandemic workplace.
In this sense, it won’t be enough for managers to share knowledge about the risks and expectations associated with maintaining a hygienic workspace, businesses will need to supply the tools and materials that will allow them to do so.
Managers will also need to think about how they will foster a sense of collaboration among teams. Casual water cooler conversations will occur less frequently if 25% of staff are working remotely on any given day.
Although most organisations noted an upsurge in productivity during the pandemic, we all know how easy it can be to fall into the trap of organisational silos. Without that ability to swivel your chair around and bounce ideas off a colleague, those informal catalytic moments that spark organic innovation could be lost.
As such, designing asynchronous spaces that allow for creativity, learning and collaboration will be crucial if teams are to succeed in the hybrid work environment.
From my experience, successfully managing change can be difficult. It is often a complex process that challenges established orthodoxies and hierarchies.
Consequently, projects that invest too heavily on the technical side of change have a tendency to fail as they don’t acknowledge the impact that change can have on people.
Accordingly, if businesses are to successfully develop and sustain a hybrid workplace, they will need to put people at the centre of their change strategy.