Change Management in a Virtual World: Capturing New Opportunities (Part Two)

In navigating the rapid change created by turbulent times, business leaders must rethink how they manage change itself. Specifically, the world of virtual work introduces new change management challenges and tensions that can be addressed through a people-centric focus that empowers employees to design the path forward. In this blog series, we explore how you can overcome the obstacles and capitalize on the opportunities surrounding change management in a virtual working world.

In part one of our series, we explored how virtual work can help you become more intentional and people-centric in how you approach change management, ultimately strengthening your organization’s capability for change. In this blog, we explore the critical actions that you can take to harness these opportunities.

Find new sources of feedback to evolve how you're sharing information. For example, you could ask a trusted member of your change network to use digital channels to give you in-the-moment feedback on how your message is landing. Real-time insights allow you to course-correct, which is essential given the reduced ability to read a room when communicating virtually. 

Put people at the center. We are seeing the personal and professional worlds collide. In this climate, effective change leaders need to consider the whole person. Other strategic initiatives aside, virtual work alone is a monumental change that is pushing, challenging, and sometimes exhausting employees. Design thinking can overcome these hurdles by engaging project teams and other stakeholders to help shape and co-create the path forward based on their needs. By focusing first on people, design thinking improves adoption by transcending hierarchy, fostering inclusion, and engaging all employees as people commonly dealing with today’s crisis.

  • Tip: Take a more holistic, personal approach to engaging people with ongoing temperature checks (e.g., “How are you feeling?”). Consider building five minutes into your meeting agenda to pause.
  • Tip: Other tactics such as end-of-week virtual happy hours can help to nurture engagement and resilience by engaging employees both personally and professionally.

Avoid virtual fatigue. Employees are spending more time than ever before on video calls, which can be draining due to the need to work harder to process non-verbal cues. Further, the increase in structured touchpoints needed can feel overwhelming. We’ve seen several organizations enact meeting-free days and video-free guidelines. Given the magnitude of change brought by virtual work alone, consider conducting a dedicated virtual work impact assessment seeking employee input on how their virtual workday will look, in turn, mitigating the risk of “Zoom fatigue.”

Find new ways to keep people engaged. Meetings should be used for two-way communication rather than mere status reports. Ask questions and gather feedback throughout the session in real time with chats and polls; this is one benefit of virtual meetings that's harder to replicate in a physical, town-hall setting.

Provide proactive updates. In the spirit of intentionality, brief teams on ongoing changes to plans—and the reasons behind them—with frequent check-ins. In these briefings, facilitate a multi-way dialogue in which all involved employee groups provide updates, in turn improving the flow and timeliness of the information. These sessions need to be frequent enough to ensure team members are aware of the happenings across teams, a program, or the organization, without being an added cause for stress or fatigue.

Tap into new channels that allow you to co-create communications, a proven change management tactic for improving adoption. This approach includes making use of competitions. Researchers have found that play is the most powerful motive in boosting performance. Other effective tactics include the use of mobile phone push notifications, utilizing sponsors and leaders to share messaging and promote usage, and applying the principles of behavioral science, such as creating Teams sites together (Ikea effect), or connecting topics using consistent language, tone, and branding (Priming).

While the transition to working from home was an abrupt one, it’s likely to have long-term implications for the workforce. Indeed, several leading companies are exploring the possibility of making the shift to remote work permanent. Despite its inherent challenges, remote work also offers the opportunity to have a lasting positive effect on change management and organizational change capability. After all, change happens one person at a time. By being intentional about how you communicate and engage with project teams and employees across the organization, you can create a more inclusive environment that develops employees from passive listeners into truly engaged co-creators.

Click here to read part one in our series.