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Managing Change in a Virtual Environment

It’s no secret that change management can be challenging. Motivating an entire organization to shift processes, behaviours, or mindsets is one of the greatest skills of effective leaders. As if change management wasn’t hard enough, businesses abruptly closed offices and transitioned to a remote workforce to help stop the spread of COVID-19. This sudden displacement was an exercise in change management in itself!


And the work from home model doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon. Although there are vaccines approved for use, distribution is a slow process, and government leaders are reluctant to give a timeline when life will go back to business as usual. Along with that, two-thirds of workers prefer remote work, and companies are experiencing decreased administrative costs. It seems that at least some version of this remote work model could stay in place when government restrictions are gone.


Organizations need to dust off old change management manuals and update them according to this new business environment. A significant overhaul of current systems is unnecessary, merely a revision through the lens of dealing with a dispersed workforce. Here are some elements to consider when revising change management procedures.


Communicate

Communication is a crucial component of any business process and is more complex and critical in a virtual environment. It’s easy to call a quick office meeting or give a passing update while working through a department. However, gathering 20 people together on a video call takes much more time and effort. Develop a plan to wrangle the team quickly when needed and give clear guidance on reaction time expectations.


Make sure your message is clear. There are fewer opportunities for people to clear up ambiguities in what you say. Also, written statements lack the tone and nonverbal cues expressed during face-to-face communication. Be sure that your message is straightforward and detailed and ask for feedback to check for understanding.


Be prompt with your communication and be mindful of rumours. Office chatter does not disappear just because there is no office. People are still talking, sharing, and hypothesizing about what is happening. You know how quickly messaging can get distorted through the office grapevine. Certainly, there’s even more distortion through text and messaging. The word on the street is now the word on the net, and you want workers to hear from you first. Be upfront, honest, and transparent.


Support

The fact that employees are working from home doesn’t release companies from their responsibility to support them. Reach out to remote employees and ask them what support they need. Do they have a quiet and private place to work? Do they need technical support or office supplies? Is their work environment safe? These are all aspects of the logistics involved with change management. If you want to mobilize a remote team to achieve change management goals, they all need to have the necessary equipment.


In addition to logistic support, continue to provide wellness support. Each change brings with it some degree of difficulty, and this can result in stress and burn-out. That’s why it’s essential to support remote workers with the same benefits they had while in the office. Quality health insurance, mental health support, and flexible work schedules all make up a stable remote work benefits plan. Also, listen to employee’s needs and make adjustments as needed. The change management process can be taxing, and you need healthy workers on your team.


Connect and Collaborate

It takes teamwork to make change happen, and building remote teams requires creativity. Thankfully, there are many software platforms that make connecting easy. Try various platforms that work for your specific needs. Use video whenever possible because seeing others’ faces help to build rapport. You’ll have to be more intentional about connecting with team members in a virtual environment. Relationships won’t develop as organically as in the office. But fostering connection and collaboration builds creativity, motivation, and engagement needed for the change management process.


Track Progress

Don’t forget to track progress along the way as you are rolling through the change process. In the office, we’ve relied on the big whiteboard to show us where our project stands. There are many project management tools in the virtual environment to keep everyone on pace to achieve key milestones. When managing remotely, it’s easy to let administrative tasks fall to the wayside. Assign responsibility for tracking and reporting progress by functional area and hold regular check-ins to stay the course.


Celebrate Wins

After tracking progress and achieving milestones, celebrating wins is a great way to reward hard work and show appreciation. At the office, celebrations often took the form of luncheons, awards banquets, or outings. Finding ways to celebrate in a virtual environment will look very different, but don’t let that discourage you from organizing something fun. Get creative and find ways to offer praise and reward excellence. For example, schedule a virtual happy hour and send the attendees team a spirit, food, or quirky hat before the event. Or try solving a virtual murder mystery together. Perhaps, hold a watch party and view a comedian or performer as a group. It will take some work to put events together, but celebrating wins will cement the changes you’ve been working hard to implement.


Change management has always been a challenging process. That hasn’t changed. What has changed is the operating environment, and mission-driven leaders will adapt proven methods to current challenges. Consider the above points when adjusting your change management plan. Your organization has already withstood the tumultuous events caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Continue using those skills to keep growing in the virtual environment.

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