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Education and engagement: making workplace transformation work

November 20, 2017

When you ask any organisation what they think their greatest asset is, the answer is, almost without exception, ‘our people’. Whether in the public or private sector, organisations demand unwavering dedication and commitment from their employees to achieve their objectives. Providing an efficient, flexible work culture is crucial in ensuring that large organisations are able to deliver effectively – but in transitioning to flexible working environments and practices, are employees getting everything they need to make the change?

For years we have understood that people can only realise their full potential, and be fully invested in their organisation, if we empower them with the right tools and the right workspace to do so. Organisations, for their part, often ask their people to deliver more and more, without investing properly in an appropriate IT infrastructure that supports people to work from the right locations and without investing in professionally-designed workplaces that properly enable flexibility and bring the benefits of increased collaboration.

However, for organisations that embrace the benefits of flexibility and engage in a process of workplace transformation, changes towards flexible working are often not accompanied with the kind of education, awareness and support that staff require to embrace any new working practices, and overcome the most common fear factors that prevent employees from fully buying into the concept of flexibility: sceptical line managers fearing that flexibility will be ‘abused’, staff fears that change is simply a precursor to an increased workload and anxiety about the possibility of negative career consequences and hidden penalties for people who take advantage of new work-life policies.

Even with the investments in new technology and new workspaces, there have been a number of ‘horror stories’ over the past number of years of organisations who have been unsuccessful in implementing change programmes. We would argue that this is due to the lack of consideration given to investing in the change programmes – the methods and skills required to move an organisation’s culture, norms, and values into alignment with new practices and working environments, and to educate staff properly in how to navigate the new world they’re being asked to work in.

In a newly designed workplace, for example, providing the flexibility for people to work where they need to in order to do their work, rather than assigned or allocated desking, brings with it the benefit of increased interaction through a range of work settings to support quiet working and spaces for collaborating. But simply assuming that employees will immediately understand why changes are being made and simply adapt to their new environment without a planned process of cultural change is always inviting problems. People naturally fear any kind of change, so carefully planned communication and engagement – and strong leadership – is as essential as choosing the right technology or workspace.

Over the past 10 years there have been a number of studies which support EventMAP’s thinking on workplace – which we’d encourage anyone in charge of a workplace change programme to read. Effective change can certainly be a minefield, but workplace change specialists can be the glue that holds the process together to ensure that the efficiencies that come from flexible working environments bear fruit for large organisations.

Jo Wilson


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