How to manage workplace change with an absent workforce
5th July 2021
Businesses have gone through unprecedented change this last year, and there will be more to come. The pandemic has forced companies to re-think everything, including for many their office space.
While the pandemic put much of our lives on hold, in contrast businesses have had to adapt and change at a significant pace. At MovePlan this has meant a busy year for our team of change management experts, as we have supported companies through various changes from relocation to the return to the office.
Now, as businesses start to plan for staff’s return to the office and continue to make changes in a Covid world, how can this be managed in a workplace when staff are not physically there? Our team of experts have various strategies to use if staff are working remotely, taking away the risks and pressures involved when implementing change.
Katherine Lawson, a Project Director at MovePlan, said it is important to remember that one size does not fit all when it comes to move and change management. “Office moves have continued to happen throughout 2020,” she explained, adding: “A business may have an upcoming lease expiry or have to relocate for another reason.
“The problem businesses have faced is that, in a lot of cases, staff have not been back in the office since March last year and many didn’t have the opportunity to take home their personal belongings or review their department’s filing and storage because remote working happened without warning. The solution is to offer the client a variety of options.”
So, what are the options for managing changes to the workplace when staff are still working remotely?
Packing personal belongings
Pre-Covid, staff would be responsible for packing their own personal belongings during an office move. The challenge now is to manage this when staff are working remotely.
As Covid restrictions are easing in some places, it may now be possible to manage staff’s return to the workplace to assist with packing if a business is relocating or if their space must be made ready for their long-awaited return. However, it is important to consider Covid-related restrictions such as floor capacities to ensure social distancing and a staggered return to reduce the pressure from supporting services.
In some instances, businesses have enlisted our help to pack and reduce on behalf of staff. To ensure this goes smoothly we have enlisted different techniques to refamiliarise staff with their space and remind them what items they had in the office. This reduces the risk of belongings being missed and incorrectly discarded and facilitates well-needed reduction programmes that could otherwise seem impossible with an absent workforce.
When managing a move or decluttering exercise with an absent workforce, it is vital to track everything and maintain the necessary levels of security when it comes to confidential filing or sensitive items, especially when staff are not onsite themselves as they would have been pre-Covid.
We use a variety of methods to track items. This includes asking staff to log where they were last sitting so that items can be tracked back to their desk via pre-populated move labels and rigorous chain of custody arrangements to ensure the correct number of items arrive
Explaining further, Katherine said: “We are working on a project where we have asked people to note down where their teams used to sit, so we know what belongs to who. It is the same with filing cabinets.
“We need to ensure that we provide clear and effective communications to keep staff updated of all activities by using multiple communication channels.”
Virtual tours of the office space have also been received well by staff who are no longer in the office and continue to work from home. This allows us to identify individual’s belongings that need to move or identify items for disposal. This results in fast decision making, proving effective for both staff and the project team alike.
What are the risks?
There are numerous risks of failing to effectively manage workplace change with an absent workforce. With a relocation, personal belongings could be incorrectly labelled and lost; important or sensitive documents could be misplaced; or items could accidently be discarded. With filing there is the added risk of data breaches.
“If you have a workforce of thousands of people you need to define an effective process to make sure that such programmes are seamless and successful,” said Katherine.
Enlisting the help of specialists can remove the risks involved with a workplace change. Our team are experts in managing change projects and have a tried and tested methodology whereas a business trying to manage a relocation without external help may have significant time restraints and be undertaking a relocation as a one-off exercise without having all the required planning and communication tools to hand. And they may not get it right.
The risks highlight the importance of effective communication and engagement. It is vital to communicate with staff throughout the process explaining what will happen and what steps they need to take.
“It’s making as many calls and having as many touch-points with staff as possible to ensure everyone knows what’s going on,” said Katherine. “There is always a degree of nervousness, and we have to adapt our engagement and communication depending on the business”.
“We are moving a large bank head office and one team has a high degree of sensitivity so they decided they wanted to come in and supervise however we have also conducted the same exercise with staff overseeing virtually. We are there to make it as painless as possible.
“For some, staff may be able to come to site, but others might not. It’s important to have two-way communication, tailoring a solution and acknowledging that one size does not fit all.”