2020 and Covid-19: What can be learnt about managing change?

Part 1
By Georgia Price, Becca Duncan, Georgina Wickman and Amin Rhalem Consultants at BJSS

Nearly a year on from the first case being discovered, the Covid-19 pandemic continues to cause widespread disruption to the economy, the way we work and how we live our lives. Organisations have had to transform quickly, and often significantly, to survive. And employees have adapted to wide-scale changes at speeds that would have previously been thought impossible.

In the first of a two-part series, we asked BJSS’ People and Change experts to reflect on the challenges organisations have faced this year when managing change. Look out for Part 2 where they’ll discuss the lessons learnt and how organisations can look to sustain any positive changes to be successful in the ‘new normal’.

So how have organisations responded to the level of change experienced through 2020?

Georgia: What has been really intriguing to me is the pace at which organisations have been able to respond to and implement changes, when they’ve been forced to do so. For many organisations, increasing their digital capabilities or supporting home working would have been on their future roadmap, but typically these would have been painstakingly planned, multi-year programmes. With the luxury of time removed, it’s been great to see organisations accelerating the implementation of these programmes in a way much more akin to agile: prioritising only what is necessary and worrying about the nice-to-haves later.

Becca: I agree, in change management, we sometimes talk about removing the alternatives as a strategy for ensuring higher levels of uptake. With the working challenges of Covid-19 being faced by all organisations, it’s been an impetus for large-scale, rapid change across the workforce – the types of changes that are difficult to land. The positive actions that I notice organisations have taken to help their employees has been to increase the support that they give their people, by way of policies such as; flexible working hours and locations, set times for their people to come together and bond socially (pub quiz, anyone?), and more. Supporting your people is key to helping them manage change, and I look forward to taking some lessons, from this time of enforced change, into managing future changes myself.

What has been the biggest challenge that organisations have faced in managing these changes?

Georgie: Trust has been tested, but I think many organisations have now witnessed how dedicated their workforce is. In some cases, team members have been able to spend more time ‘at work’ as their commute has been removed. However, with the shift to working from home more likely to be a fundamental part of the ‘new norm’, it will be vital for organisations to keep their employees engaged and manage their well-being, so that this change becomes sustainable. Managing culture remotely has also been a challenge, especially when trying to sell who you are as an organisation to potential new employees or those onboarding.

Becca: It is difficult to maintain a feeling of ‘one team’ when you are an organisation that has historically leant on the relationships that people build with each other when they’re in a shared working space. However, this becomes particularly difficult when you are managing a workforce that is diverse in its people and experience levels; enabling your people to do what they’re good at is a huge challenge when you can’t be with them to spot where they’re struggling, particularly if there hasn’t already been a culture of putting your hand up where you need help. In these times, I think it has been those organisations with close relationships between line managers and their reportees, to encourage challenges to be raised before they become issues, that keep their people supported, focused, and working together.

Are there any examples where you think changes have been managed particularly well?

Amin: As Georgia mentioned, the dramatic increase in digital technology and capabilities has been successfully delivered in a short space of time. Where these changes have worked particularly well is when an organisation not only addresses immediate needs but also builds towards a long-term opportunity. As we moved to a remote setting, organisations were very quick to provide new collaboration tools and guides to support employees to carry out their roles in a remote setting. It is safe to say that flexible working now ranks fairly high on the employee value proposition and hence longer-term opportunities for a flexible working model should be explored. However, I’m also excited to see the future of mainstream collaboration tooling re-imagined – VR meetings, anyone?

Georgie: To follow on from Amin’s point, companies who have accepted and embraced the move to flexible working are good examples of how best to manage employees concerns and keep them engaged during this time of uncertainty. Shopify are a good example of a company being clear on their stance. The CEO announced that the company would now be ‘digital by default’ with ‘office centricity’ being over. The Canadian-based company also stated that although most of the workforce could choose to continue working from home, they would still renovate their offices to reflect the new reality of the world. Giving people flexibility in their life has been a great benefit and fundamentally, wouldn’t you want to work for somewhere that allows you to work to live rather than live to work?

Find out what BJSS’s People and Change experts think should be top of organisations’ change agenda going forwards in Part 2 of the series, coming later this week.