Workplace change management: Are you communicating the right information at the right time to head off rumors and resistance to change?

FM Tips and Tricks for managing workplace change successfully

by Diane Coles Levine — We have a natural resistance to change and even though there are good business reasons for transforming the workplace, often, employees feel vulnerable with the process. Helping employees understand workplace change should be executed very carefully and thoughtfully. The goal is to create a well-crafted change management program that provides support for employees about their new workplace and assists them in getting back to work as quickly as possible to avoid any productivity loss.

Any Facility Manager knows that there will always be some resistance to a new workplace design. As Peter M. Senge once said, “People don’t resist change, they resist being changed.” The key is to make sure that those employees about to experience the change are fully engaged and guided through the transformation. Including user departments in decisions and communicating progress as early as possible, whether good or bad, can minimize this resistance. This article reviews the elements of a successful workplace change management program from a facility manager’s (FM) perspective.

Building the Change Management Team

Pulling the right team together is important. Collaborating with Human Resources (HR), Information Technology (IT), Marketing and Communications and other departments will help to create an effective change management program. Having an executive sponsor helps. They can back your plan and provide advice on the change management and communications strategy. Including department leaders up front in the planning process will result in a smoother transition from your old to your new workplace. Some core players on the team include:

  • Executive Sponsor: Provides strategic guidance and advice and communication channel to executives.
  • Marketing/Communications/Public Relations or Media Relations: Reviews and crafts messages for both internal and external audiences. Advises on message management and content.
  • HR: Provides messaging content input and assists with communications strategy. Communicates messages through training and other HR programs.
  • IT: Provides message content on IT infrastructure systems along with specialized IT training related to new workplace technology tools.
  • Key Department Leaders: Provides input into workplace planning along with advice on staff engagement during the process.
  • Project Management: Can assist in managing the project.
  • Biggest Opponent: This can work in your favor. Though it may be painful at first, once they have a clear understanding of the reasons for the project and the issues FMs face, they can become your biggest ally.

Creating the Change Management Plan

The first question to ask is, “How will the change management team work with the other teams associated with the workplace project including: real estate, facilities, construction, architecture and design, IT, project management, furniture vendors and movers?” A clear outline of how information will flow between change management and these other teams is important in creating the plan.

Let’s use a relocation project as an example. Figure 1 shows that each sub-project team has valuable information to share with employees about the new workplace. For the employees, this is the “What’s in it For Me” or WIFM. Understanding these critical information points, timing of events and decisions points is essential for the change management team to communicate accurate news to employees.

Figure 1, Workplace Change Management: What Employees Want to Know/What’s in it for ME (WIFM)

Having somebody act as a communication link between all teams in Figure 1 is helpful particularly if they know and understand FM and construction/relocation projects and can anticipate employee WIFM. This person can work with the change management team and key stakeholders including architects, construction project manager, furniture and technology vendors, branding and moving company to gain a clear understanding of the new office design. Feeding pertinent information to the change management team will help to develop timely communications carefully coordinated with the overall workplace relocation project timeline.

The next step is to create the plan to ensure employees are well informed and receive consistent, timely and accurate information. Included in the plan is a schedule for the change program showing the specific activities and events that must occur along with the responsible party, completion dates and key dates where appropriate.

Here are some considerations for the plan and communications materials:

  1. Who is responsible for each task, who is preparing communication materials for dissemination, who will introduce the new workplace to employees?
  2. What is being communicated and to which audience?
  3. When will tasks be completed and when are communications being disseminated?
  4. Where will employees find information about the change?
  5. How will communications be distributed? How will unforeseen issues be communicated to employees?
  6. Why is the change taking place?

Communications Methods and Materials

“Change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up” — James Belasco and Ralph Stayer. As FMs we need to do a better job of communicating the value of workplace change to employees.

Fortunately, there are other departments such as Marketing and Communications that are experienced in employee communications. Together with HR, they can help develop the strategy and communication materials. Communications should be mult-pronged, targeted to specific audiences and maintained throughout the life of the project. Messages should be clear, concise, honest and consistent.

Some methods for workplace communication are:

  1. Frequently Asked Questions — weekly or bi-weekly emails discussing project progress and WIFM.
  2. E-Newsletters — with updates and pictures of what’s new and what’s next.
  3. Videos – showing construction progress or vital information about the new workplace.
  4. Training Sessions — explaining how to work remotely and how to work in a distributed environment.
  5. Department Meetings — presenting workplace information and answering questions from employees to engage them in the process.
  6. Company Meetings — where CEO discusses reasons and progress of new workplace.
  7. Special events – to engage employees in workplace (e.g., tours).
  8. Blogs / Intranet — where staff can ask questions and express issues. Pictures and videos of construction progress can be stored for viewing.
  9. Pilots / Mock ups — to test products and introduce new ideas prior to installation.
  10. Roundtable Conversations, Brown Bag Lunches, Q&A Sessions — to allow staff to ask questions and understand reasons behind the change.
  11. Tours — of the workplace either in person or on video.

Communication materials can include all pertinent information about the workplace project:

  1. Overview of new office layout, building amenities, and area amenities
  2. Benefits of new office (What’s in it for me)
  3. How to work in a mobile or distributed workplace
  4. Personal tips on managing the change to a new office
  5. Timelines and milestones
  6. New technology being introduced and “how to use” information
  7. Moving and packing information, tips, and schedules
  8. What to expect on the first day in the new space
  9. Managing home office workers
  10. Working from home
  11. Etiquette and housekeeping standards in the new office

Communications can be thematic with both good news and controversial news interspersed. Some examples are:

  1. General Building Information (location, parking, security, area amenities)
  2. Space Plan (who’s where, what’s changed? what’s new? how to use the new space?)
  3. Furniture (new furniture products, “how-to” instructions, timeframe, mockups)
  4. Sustainability and environmental aspects (what’s new, what’s changed? how does it relate to corporate social responsibility program?)
  5. Technology (phones, network, audio visual, meeting rooms, printers, wireless, training timelines)
  6. Branding (how will space be branded? what will it look like, where?)
  7. Employee amenities (food service, fitness, day care, what’s new? what’s changed?)
  8. Construction schedule (timeline, status updates)
  9. Move Management (schedule, packing instructions)
  10. Mobility program (eligibility, process, training, how to work in the new office space?)

Managing Rumors and Resistance

One way to manage rumors is by using a process called “message management,” a pubic relations methodology. Message management is used to control and create a consistent story to avoid having employees receive contradictory or confusing information that will cause rumors to spread and shed doubt on your project. This method also helps create appropriate communication for different audiences. The public relations member on the change management team can educate the group about this process.

Some tips for managing rumors and resistance are:

  1. Be up front with employees. It’s best not to hold back any information even if it is negative.
  2. The earlier you communicate the news, the better. Don’t let them find out they are moving from a hard walled office to a cubicle a few weeks before the move. They need time to adjust.
  3. Explain the reasons for the change. Was it financial or cultural? Use the message management story.
  4. Be a broken record. Tell the story over and over until employees start repeating it.
  5. If your project is running late, tell the employees and explain why. If a group’s mobility plans have been delayed, let them know as soon as possible.
  6. Listen to employee concerns and address them all along the way in your communications plan.
  7. Discuss employee concerns with the change management team and incorporate into communications materials.
  8. Provide an avenue for employees to express their opinions and concerns.
  9. Conduct and review employee surveys and focus groups

Another approach is to engage employees in the change through weekly frequently asked questions (FAQs). You can start the ball rolling by anticipating questions and creating the first FAQ using themes shown above. This will generate excitement about the change and help prepare employees especially when including pictures of the space, furniture, new technology demos, and video clips. FAQs will make employees feel part of the process.

Conducting and reviewing employee surveys and focus groups will help to understand your audience and better manage any rumors or resistance. There are pre/change and post/change survey tools available to monitor employee engagement including the Gallup Employee Engagement Survey, the Leesman Index and others that will help you gain an understanding of employees concerns. The more you know, the better you can manage the change. Conducting a post review will determine whether objectives were met and lessons learned can be incorporated into future workplace transformation projects.

As Sydney J. Harris once said “Our dilemma is that we hate change and love it at the same time; what we really want is for things to remain the same but get better.” For FMs, change management is becoming a necessary core competency. When planning your workplace project remember to ensure that the people involved and affected by the change understand the change and are prepared for the transformation.

Diane Coles Levine is the Executive Director of the IFMA Foundation. Previously, she was the founder and managing partner at Workplace Management Solutions. She served on the IFMA Board of Directors, is Past Chair of the IFMA Foundation and was named the 2015 IFMA Corporate Real Estate Council Distinguished Member. She is an international speaker and guest lecturer at Vienna University of Technology and MIT Professional Education Programs. Diane is co-editor and author of Work on the Move.

Workplace Evolutionaries’ (WE’s) mission is to “change the world one workplace at a time.” It’s a global community of over a thousand professionals who care deeply about the world of work and where it’s going. Among its members are workplace strategists, change managers, facilities managers, architects, designers, HR professionals, IT managers, academics, and product and service providers. WE members enjoy three conferences a year, monthly WEbinars with thought leaders from around the world, a monthly round-up of the best workplace research and news, white papers, and a vehicle for connecting with fellow evolutionaries around the world. WE is a global Community of Practice within the International Facility Management Association.