The Demand for Workplace Strategy and Change Management in A Time of Crisis


The concept of workplace strategy and change management are both crucial, especially with the changes demanded by the pandemic. Overall, organizations need to take a hard look at their current business objectives and determine which of these they have to start changing to suit the new direction they will take.

Businesses are under immense pressure brought about by the pandemic. From scrambling to return to operation, struggling with expenses, downsizing and laying off employees, and renovating office spaces, many companies need to take extreme measures to adapt to the current situation. Without a proper plan, businesses will have a difficult time recovering.

Cristina Herrera, ProsciOpens in a new tab. is no exception to these challenges. She herself has been recently laid off from work. With an abundance of time on her hands, she has taken it upon herself to set up a routine to continue creating positivity in her life and establish her own change and strategy business, Cristina Herrera ConsultingOpens in a new tab.. Instead of being demoralized by the setbacks, she views them as an opportunity to focus on her skills, gratitude and self-care.

Cristina, born and raised in Sydney, Australia, is a change management specialist currently residing in New York City. With the transitions organizations are experiencing, her knowledge and expertise in change management are more valuable than ever. Transforming goals and timelines are now necessary for companies to survive, if not thrive, given the current circumstances.

Explaining Workplace Strategy vs. Change Management

According to Cristina, “It is important to understand that workplace strategy and change management are completely separate disciplines and competencies.” Nonetheless, they complement each other and are actually two sides of the same coin. Workplace strategy and change management need each other, and they push and pull on each other when it comes to creating shifts in organizational culture.

In her experience, people get the most value when you explain how the two are different because it allows her clients to better articulate their goals before jumping to implementation mode.   In fact, comprehending these concepts also allows her to ensure that both the strategy and implementation are strong in their own right yet aligned. Therefore, Cristina advocates for explaining their difference and how workplace strategy and change management need different yet complementary skill sets.  

The Focus of Workplace Strategy

Workplace strategy seems simple at first but is actually full of nuances and hard facts. It essentially informs the changes in how employees will interact with the built environment and physically get their work done. Cristina stresses that workplace strategy is strictly a data-driven practice and is not just a matter of preference or taste, e.g. “organizations should never aspire their workplace to look oroperate like another organization’s workplace because ultimately it’s your people who need to thrive in it.” Workplace strategy involves integrating the following with the environment of the entire office:

• Culture
• Goals
• Habits
• Patterns 

The goal is “to align the strategy of your workplace to your corporate goals and culture—that includes people, tech, and process,” she says.

Workplace strategy is also very spatial in nature. It relates to space planning and space experience for all the stakeholders involved. There is an evident struggle to get the right people at the table because it is usually merely understood as a corporate real estate project instead of a business project. “Changes made to the workplace strategy will ripple through all areas of the organization like an ecosystem”. For Cristina, the executive also needs to be heavily involved, active, and driven throughout the process for a successful and efficient workplace strategy.

The Challenges

At times, it is difficult to maintain the project team’s focus on developing the strategy and instead wander away to other unnecessary matters. For example, the team could start picking out furniture instead of trying to facilitate business objectives and improving the performance and efficiency of the employees in relation to the office environment.

People usually look to the solution right away, overlooking strategizing in the process, and this is the wrong approach to formulating your workplace strategy. Modern strategies involve ways to make sure that the work environment encourages the following:

• Reduce expenses and maximize the limited space
• Designing a space that aligns with the work staff need to do 
• Establish better connection and network 
• Foster innovation and collaboration 

With the recent pandemic, you can expect numerous physical changes to the workplace. The concepts of social and physical distancing did not exist several months ago. Now, offices are scrambling to ensure they meet the health needs of their employees and comply with new regulations. The new normal is starting to manifest itself through these methods of dispersion. However, business objectives demand that employees remain integrated and connected with each other despite the necessary efforts to keep them physically apart. Overall, the pandemic poses a challenge that the workplace strategy needs to solve to allow the business to adapt to the adversity.

Similarly, social justice and human rights discussions throughout the US and the world have meant that we need to take a more inclusive stance on how we develop our strategies and how we roll out our change programs. Cristina welcomes this challenge and is committed to ensuring that a diverse range of people are included every step of the way, e.g. throughout the data collection process, in the stakeholder groups, and in engagement sessions. 

Pitching Change Management 

When asked to define change management, Cristina, being a change management expert, uses different definitions and perspectives intentionally depending on who she’s talking to.

 

Company Executives

For the client executives, she has to make the decision-making funders look at it on a wide scale. Change management is “a science-based systematic approach to ensure that your organization gets its people-dependent return on investment.”

Top management needs to realize that any project requiring the staff to either think, feel, or do anything different needs change management. In the work setting, people do not change by themselves—they require adequate support and preparation to adapt properly.

HR and Company Staff

On the other hand, the members of people-oriented change management teams, who are in the frontline with the company staff, demand a different perspective of change management. For human resources teams specifically, change management is “ensuring that your people understand what they have to do and why so that they can utilize the new thing, place, or process to its fullest potential.” They need to recognize the need for transitory support during periods of organizational change. They also bear the brunt of the work, so they need to understand the shifts in technical and operational processes.

In addition, Cristina believes that change management for the HR teams are mostly about “priming people so that the business runs smoothly, and the employees become successful in their jobs.”

Reconciling the Differences

Business transformation and new behaviors are required at both the executive and employee levels during a transition. However, it is the employee level that ultimately feels the brunt of the change. Creating alignment between the two levels required absolute commitment at the executive level and a human-centric approach to change at the employee level. 

The need for change management is stronger now more than ever, given the current circumstances. No matter what organization you are, the health and economic crisis have forced virtually every company to begin revisiting their goals and objectives to survive. Thus, both top management, as well as the employees, have to understand the new policies and practices in place to fulfill their potential as a business. Efficiency is dire in this scenario, with everyone cutting costs and limiting expenses, because it could spell the difference between an on-going functional operation and a closed business.

Preparing People for the Workplace

Cristina emphasizes that organizations “spend so much time, money, and effort in preparing a great space for their people, but they must not forget to prepare their people for the space.”

This is essentially what both workplace strategy and change management are about. These two concepts highlight the importance in having both a strong data driven workplace strategy and a strong human-centered change strategy. 

Organizations should always remember that the office was built to support productivity goals, but it is the employees who are producing, not the office itself. This rings true today as employees work remotely in the wake of COVID-19, ultimately keeping business’ afloat. People drive business, not processes or systems or buildings. Hence, we need to focus whole-heartedly at people when undergoing a workplace transition or evolving to a new way of working. Our focus needs to be on how we can position employees for success to perform at their highest potential. Therefore, the change of perspective needs to come from the organizations themselves, putting the needs of the people first and remaining employee-centric throughout the process.

The Pandemic-Proof Strategy

The pandemic made it standard for physical distancing to be observed and that sanitation is of utmost importance. Work-from-home settings have become the norm, and the workforce is only limited to the minimum necessary amount. The crisis made us dispersed, but businesses need to find ways to connect people regardless of distance.

With the crisis, human resources teams now have to resort to both workplace strategy and change management to facilitate business goals and fulfill the company’s objectives. This begs the question, what should go first? Should organizations prioritize workplace strategy or change management? Well, the answer isn’t so straightforward.

Cristina stresses that workplace strategy and change management are separate but complementary. Furthermore, they fall under the same umbrella, which is called the corporate strategy. This relates to organizational development and the overall direction that the company wants to move into. For her, this is what companies should prioritize before even starting to formulate strategies for their office space or employee efficiency.

She cites several examples, such as considering a four-day work week, implementing new technologies, or a completely different method of working. Both workplace strategy and change management are arguable in-the-moment and tackle problems in the short-term. However, the necessary shift businesses have to make because of the pandemic makes it essential for organizations to rethink their long-term vision and direction in the company even before they start picking on the specifics. Remember, it is only when the corporate strategy is clear and sound that workplace strategy and change management becomes urgent.

The concept of workplace strategy and change management are both crucial, especially with the changes demanded by the pandemic. Overall, organizations need to take a hard look at their current business objectives and determine which of these they have to start changing to suit the new direction they will take.

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