Strategies for overcoming resistance to adopting agile working practices

In a business climate characterized by constant and accelerating change, dealing with employee resistance to those changes is troublesome at best, and costly in many cases. That’s certainly true when it comes to implementing change in the workplace, especially moving to shared workspaces and adopting agile working practices.

Companies save millions by implementing agile workplaces, and the move is also widely recognized as an effective strategy for attracting talent, improving employee experience and boosting productivity. That’s why Forbes has predicted an increasing demand for more flexible workspaces in 2017.

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Yet it’s unlikely that all employees will recognize the benefits of agile workspaces beforehand. Many will resist the change, which can result in lower productivity and loss of talent, potentially sabotaging the success of the project. That’s why the right change management program is so essential when implementing change in the workplace.

Implementing change in the workplace: a 12-week change management program

Here’s a proven change management strategy that helped Suncorp successfully implement agile working practices and environments across the company’s entire portfolio in Australia and New Zealand. The move has saved Suncorp millions by reducing property costs, taken the utilization of their portfolio from 50% to 92%, and provided employees with more flexibility, mobility, and a cultural shift toward collaboration.

1. Enlist champions

Research shows that there’s a social aspect to implementing change in the workplace that’s a major factor in employees resisting new initiatives. People worry about the social impacts of the change. For example: will giving up their desks mean they won’t be able to sit with their team members and friends? Will giving up their private office decrease their status within the company?

According to HBR, “the social aspect is what determines the presence or absence of resistance. Just as ignoring this fact is the sure way to trouble, so taking advantage of it can lead to positive results.”

Suncorp used office social networks to improve success with implementing change in the workplace. As their smart environments initiative was implemented floor-by-floor, space champions were recruited from each team that would be impacted by the upcoming move to shared, flexible workspace. Those champions worked as a team to develop a plan that worked for everyone, and they were able to explain the benefits of the change and ease the concerns of their team members.

2. Establish goals

At Suncorp, space champions worked alongside the property team to establish what success would look like for the project. That’s because different teams can adjust to implementing workplace changes at different rates. Here are examples of what the outcome goals might look like:

  • Everyone adheres to the clean desk policy
  • Everyone moves around within the agile space at least once per week

3. Anticipate obstacles

Once goals are established, the next step for implementing change in the workplace is to identify the potential obstacles that could fuel resistance and possibly derail the project. According to Forbes, “The best way to avoid resistance to change? Seek to uncover potential resistance prior to implementing change.”

That’s why Suncorp’s space champions were tasked with communicating the workplace needs of their teams, and bringing to the table any issues they could foresee. Having that information helped the project team work out a realistic plan to minimize resistance and proactively prevent problems.

4. Develop a plan

Implementing change in your organization is slow, incremental steps helps people to adjust and become comfortable in the new flexible environment a little at a time. That’s one reason Suncorp chose to implement agile working in their existing space. Some companies implement agile working for the first time when moving to new space. However, this practice can make it even more difficult for employees to adjust. A new space adds another big new factor into the equation and forces people into making the shift to a new way of working all at once.

Instead, Suncorp developed a plan for implementing change in the workplace that entailed small shifts over a 2-month period, with the specific changes determined by each project team.

5. Address technology issues

For agile working practices to work for the more mobile workforce, it’s essential that related technology issues are addressed when implementing change in the workplace. For example, will people use desktop workstations or laptops with docking stations? Telephones with login capability are usually needed to help employees move around with ease and still be contactable in an agile space. You may also need to step up IT processes and expectations: it may no longer be acceptable to take days to repair equipment problems in an agile environment.

Also, how will the property team determine the right seat ratios for each neighborhood? The best results come from implementing utilization tracking and workplace management technology to get the facts about how people are using space. You can learn more about that technology from this informative resource: Managing Workplace Utilization.

Also, read this topic to learn more about using data to design the right agile workspace for each business team: Activity-Based Workplace Design: Why One Size Does Not Fit All.

6. Address health and safety issues

When people will be sharing desks, you may need to purchase new furniture to accommodate everyone’s needs, such as height-adjustable desks and chairs, as well as adjustable monitor stands or mounts. Suncorp found that it was helpful to train employees in advance on appropriate etiquette for desk sharing to ensure a sanitary environment, such as not eating at their desk and leaving it clean for the next person’s use.

7. Implement changes week-by-week

With a plan for implementing workplace change agreed upon, that plan was communicated to those involved and implemented week by week. For example, these are some of the steps that might be needed:

Week 1: Clean out the office space to get rid of unnecessary items and paper.
Week 2: Establish central storage for files.
Week 3: Establish personal storage space, such as lockers or bins.
Week 4: Everyone swaps seats with a neighbor, so each person can figure out what they need at their desk to get work done.

By week 8, employees are ready to go live with the agile workplace, and the goals established in step 2 should be met.

8. Make policy changes and train management for agile working practices

Implementing change in the workplace can be especially difficult for middle managers, who may have little experience managing a dispersed team. It takes training to change their longstanding expectations of seeing team members at their desks all day. Managers need to be taught to evaluate team members based on the results they produce. Also, it’s important for them to model agile working practices themselves in order to empower their team to adopt the changes.

More on this issue to come in next week’s blog.

9. Provide post-implementation support

Even when you properly prepare employees in advance for implementing change in the workplace, don’t skimp on adequate post-implementation support. After a move to agile working, it takes a full 12 months for the new way of working to be fully embedded in the culture. Empower your space champions to solve problems that arise within their teams.

The property team should also be monitoring the use of agile space at all times, and jumping in to proactively address and issues that are popping up. Here’s an interesting thing that happens over time as the culture matures: everyone wants to work in the cool new space! That can lead to areas becoming overcrowded, lines for lifts, increased consumables and other problems. Using technology to monitor what’s happening can mitigate issues and keep the space working well for the business.

Outcome achieved by Suncorp

These are some of the impressive results Suncorp has achieved with implementing change in the workplace and providing agile working environments:

  • Productivity up 10%
  • 91% positive enablement response
  • 10% reduction in voluntary turnover
  • Expanded access to high quality, diverse talent (4x more applicants)
  • 89% would recommend the new workplace

Next week, we’ll address how to gain leadership buy-in for moving to agile working practices. Don’t miss it!

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