The Future of Work: Managing Change in the Post-Pandemic Workplace
The last two years have been filled with disruption and change, requiring organizations in all industries to quickly pivot and adapt to changing employee and consumer needs. When uncertainty is the only certainty, organizations must rethink how they build community, strengthen relationships, coach and mentor, and reinforce shared purpose and culture.
What are the factors influencing change and what can leaders, managers, and other people do to prepare for the future?
The rate of disruption is accelerating, and most organizations are not well-positioned to adapt. Faced with unprecedented circumstances, response has been reactive, with leaders having limited experience to draw from and apply. This increases the risk of a reactive cycle of problem-solving without an orientation toward learning or innovative solutions. Reactive responses are not sustainable to navigating the future of work.
Following the shift to mostly remote workplaces at the beginning of the pandemic, leaders are now planning their paths forward and must decide if it makes sense to continue remote, return to in person, or embrace a hybrid model. There is concern of eroding corporate culture due to remote or hybrid work, with a loss of mentoring, potential equity issues, and loss of innovation opportunities and water cooler talk. As of Fall 2021, only four percent of workplaces are fully remote, with many now back in person or taking a hybrid approach.
Individuals are also struggling at a greater degree, with many feeling burnt out, emotionally drained, and reporting higher rates of depression, with significantly higher rates of these feelings among employees whose leaders have not adapted to change. As the great resignation continues, leaders must quickly address these issues to nurture their workforce and proactively plan to address burnout, stress, and employee wellness.
Here are four leading themes our change management experts have seen emerging as we plan for the future of work.
Normalizing Change Constancy
The pandemic was a reality check for many organizations. Companies had to adapt to change overnight just to survive. As things move forward, organizations will continue to reinvent the ways they operate and must remain open to making changes in every part of the business to continue to thrive in the new normal.
These changes are not just related to employees, suppliers, and customers, but they impact the way businesses are structured. Agile organizations are moving away from complex hierarchies to seamless structures with a more project-based approach based on capabilities rather than job title, allowing work to be completed more effectively.
Any organization going through transformation is going through change. Organization design transformation calls for a rethinking of how change management is approached. Focusing on the people side of change early and more strategically will yield a more effective outcome and shift in behavior.
Integrating the Work of People and Technology
Technology allows organizations to communicate with employees in new ways, manage change analytics, and survey individuals to assess change impacts and progress. To forge a more change-ready culture, leverage these tools to ensure project success.
Technology modernization is also a driver of change. As organizations move from legacy systems to more robust, next-generation technology, it requires a culture shift. For example, employees in less technology-based roles may resist new technology adoption. Organizations need to provide support and deliver education and training, so people feel comfortable with new technology and have opportunities for heightened participation in the evolution of the organization’s technology.
Cultivating Organizational Change
For workplaces that are embracing a remote or hybrid workplace approach, there is concern of culture erosion. Cultivation of organizational culture now requires even greater focus and prioritization of inclusion and diversity. Efforts to include diverse points of view are needed, while preventing workspace bias such as in person workers being more top-of-mind.
Fostering Personal Wellbeing
The largest lesson to come out of the past few years is the need to develop empathy in the workplace. Leaders must be understanding of personal and professional situations at work, especially as the boundaries between work and life continue to blur. With no reprieve from continuous change, leaders must constantly work to strengthen individual and team resilience. Employees must develop learning agility, curiosity around opportunities, and a sense of personal and shared meaning for their work.
What themes have you seen play out in your organization? How do you plan to proactively respond to more rapid change?
Written by Senior Consultants Noelle Akins and Rachel Schindler