Lockdown provided the perfect opportunity for firms to trial working from home, particularly in sectors where it is not an instinctive fit. Barbara Moldenhauer looks at the effect on change management processes and how they should adapt for long-term success.
In our previous article, we looked at how lockdown was affecting change management and why many firms were pre-emptively giving a red rating.
However, four months into working from home, many projects have been re-baselined and are moving forward on target once again. Looking beyond ongoing change management programmes, how can project leaders adapt their processes for a long-term working from home model?
Collaboration is key in change management
Team building and effective collaboration has always been a challenge for change management. Project teams include a broad range of specialists from across an organisation, as well as other in-group entities and third parties.
They may not know each other or work together in any other context. In short, every change management project team is a new team and it takes careful cultivation to draw those disciplines together; to get them moving forward towards the same goal at the same pace. This isn’t an easy feat, particularly when your team are working from home.
There are situations and difficult conversations where face-to-face collaboration may be preferable, depending on the person. A significant portion of communication is non-verbal and working together, in the same space, can promote bonding and help a project manager pick up and address any inter-team tensions or stress.
Not to mention, there are benefits to face-to-face contact, given the problem-solving nature of change management, where concepts evolve gradually and bouncing ideas off each other can help. Most people have had a "eureka" moment while chatting over coffee.
Working from home is nothing new
While face-to-face collaboration can support team bonding and creativity, juggling multiple locations and time zones is nothing new.
Conference calls have long been a staple for change management teams and, although video conferencing has been available, it hasn’t always been the default. These tools have not typically been used in isolation and have been supported by in-person collaboration. As businesses have adapted to the working from home model, project managers and individuals will take lessons learned and undoubtedly use these collaboration tools more effectively moving forward.
Five steps for effective change management in a working from home model
So far, when talking about change management while working from home, we’ve looked at the impact for on-going project teams. This has mostly centered on bonding, maintaining focus, productivity and motivation. But what happens when it’s a new project, with a new, multi-disciplined team?
How do you start to synchronize the team and both build and maintain that momentum remotely? These are the fundamental questions when looking at change management under a long-term working from home model.
We suggest five key things to consider when building a change management project team who are working from home:
1 Draw a line between working from home and being at home
When you leave the office, you make a decisive end to your working day. But when you're working from home, it can be difficult to make it clear to your team that you are done for now and need to both rest and spend time with your family, particularly when you're in different time zones.
Have an open discussion with your project team on what constitutes "working from home":
Is it okay with everyone to get calls while on their lunch break?
Are there times of day or signals they can give when they need to not be disturbed?
What constitutes an 'emergency' situation when those rules can be ignored?
Should people message to ask to call first?
Are video calls okay or will it be awkward or uncomfortable without checking everyone is dressed and has brushed their hair first?
2 Establish a clear delivery drum beat
Meetings need to be well structure and facilitated, making sure every one has a voice and isn't being muted. These operational meetings should have a clear agenda with points to talk to and formalised minutes with action tracking in place. Consider working with online tools to do so.
3 Get everyone on the same page
Milestones should be clearly set and prioritised. Make sure everyone’s vision is aligned and everyone understands their contributions. It can be easy to miss information when you're working from home, so consider task-tracking platforms like Jira or Asana.
4 Create platforms for bonding
Social activities are important for bonding and these can be just as effective over video calls. Virtual quizzes or multi-player game sessions can help a team bond and get to know each other. It's important to get things like this into diaries, and to be flexible with the choice and timing of these events in order to be inclusive.
5 Support eureka moments
Different methods of communication can support different work practices. For example, instant messenger or phone calls can be really helpful to chat about a problem informally, or to provide sounding boards within the team. They can also be great to get a temperature check and keep up the flow of information. This kind of asynchronous communication can also allow you to keep in touch without disturbing people.
While a lot of firms are considering their strategies around working from home moving forward and discussing office space and footfall, we should not make this a mechanical exercise. As change leaders, we are most likely to be people leaders. We need to put the additional effort in to make our people safe and comfortable with the new way of working. It is not just the individuals we need to think of, we should not forget the team dynamics and should give them the space to develop and grow.
For more information on change management projects when working from home, contact Paul Anthony.
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