“Evolution of the Workplace: and the Impacts to Change Management”
ACMP PNW Thought Leadership Team Opinion Paper
Contributors: Kimberly Bertz, Susan Garriety, Claire McCarthy, Julie Milner,
Erin O’Connell, Nancy Richards, and Katie Whitbeck
The workplace is undeniably evolving. The greater issue is, are we ready to help others build their capacity to adapt to these changes?
Over the last century, and accelerating in recent decades, we see significant shifts from Millennials dominating the workplace, to technology’s impact on new and innovative styles and approaches to the work. Today’s workers demand a different work environment and exhibit a variety of new work styles.
Where Baby Boomers are often seen as more traditional – “going to the office” from 9-5 and building tenure at a single company over the course of their career – later generations have a distinctly different work personality. It is risky to over-generalize, but X’ers and Millennials tend to value connection with the mission of their company, their communities, and their friends and families. In addition, they often serve shorter stints at any given organization, building a career through distinct roles and developing skills at multiple organizations. These trends reveal an evolution in worker type: from a hierarchical task-focused worker to a more self-directed, entrepreneurial utility player that brings cross-functional skills and diverse company experiences to their employer.
This diversely skilled worker is a new phenomenon, changing the dynamics of the traditional workforce. The expectation of shorter tenure in a single organization or in a specific role supports the desire for career fluidity and transition into new and different roles. This dynamic forces organizations, managers, and employees to work in an increasingly blended workforce comprised of full time employees (both on and off site), part time or shared role employees, contractors, and consultants. As a result, industry lines are increasingly blurred. In addition, since competition is heating up for the best talent, companies have to rethink and test new approaches for recruiting and retention, talent management, and change management.
The impact of technological advancements cannot be underestimated as they are moving the workforce into a faster, more mobile, and more collaborative experience. Technology continues to evolve the way we work, with people often spending significantly less time “in the office” with direct, face-to-face engagement and more time working remotely and virtually. People increasingly interface with multiple modes of technology to promote constant connectivity and real time visibility for everyone. What seemed impossible to do on a ‘phone’ just a few years ago is now the norm, with mobile devices enabling everything from email to video conferencing, as well as organization and job-specific applications.
We interviewed “Sally,” a non-traditional office worker to see how her work life has transformed in this environment. “The way I work has changed dramatically. For example, before rushing home to jump on my laptop in my “office,” I had a meeting at a coffee shop with a colleague and then stopped into my child’s classroom to help the teacher with a reading group. This flexibility in how and where I manage my workload is perfectly acceptable, as long as I continue to deliver against my work commitments. If it was not, I would find a company that did support this flexibility. As I sit on my couch with my laptop in my “office,” it strikes me that the tried and true methods I have employed in years of change management consulting, to engage and involve the workforce along the transformation journey may no longer be effective. People are no longer easily accessible to pull together in a traditional office in order to engage them in each step of the change execution.”
As Sally exemplifies, most companies today provide a variety of flexible working arrangements to increase the diversity of talent. As Neeley (2015) states, to succeed in the global economy today, companies are increasingly relying on a geographically dispersed workforce. This scenario, albeit challenging to manage, enables companies to draw on diverse perspectives and experiences in tackling hard business challenges. It also allows employees, like Sally, greater freedom to creatively manage work and family demands. This is a reality that many companies are beginning to more deeply understand and appreciate about the changing expectations of workers.
One of the challenges to this evolution is that we no longer leave work “at the office.” It can be difficult to disconnect from work to guard and maintain adequate life/work balance. The modern work environment for many has moved to 24/7 with a multitude of devices to keep us connected. We are subjected to an “always on” work environment. Sally, referenced earlier in this article, agrees, stating,” I can respond to a pressing email from one of my work associates as I walk into my child’s school to help with her reading group. I must do my best to stay present in the reading group, instead of wondering what communications await me in one of my three different email accounts, phone instant messaging, Snapchat, Facebook or LinkedIn. I am inundated with information all day and evening, continuing in force over the weekend.”
In fact, Sally is not alone. Rosen and Samuel suggest that spending too much time on e-mail and social media can be detrimental to both work productivity and level of engagement at work and at home.
All of us have heard the outcry from people we work with, ‘How will I keep pace with the key messages about what is changing and why and what is needed from me?’ And those of us who provide change management support are asking ourselves the question; ‘How can I best consult with my clients accordingly?’ The traditional methods to engage and communicate with the workforce to bring them along on the journey simply won’t work in our evolving world. Sally confirms, ‘I do my best to prioritize and stay tuned, but I am the first to admit that I would NOT read the newsletter that makes its way to one of my many email accounts.’ We can no longer plan for frequent in-person connection summits and weekly newsletters to get people aligned and engaged. We must be creative to reach people and stand out in the influx of emails, social media feeds, and competing work and family demands.
Critical considerations for today’s Change Management Professional:
- Explore a variety of communication vehicles – mass-emailing is no longer effective in many work environments! Get creative and alter your communication medium based on your audience. Find out what works in each particular situation and start from there. Could you use Yammer, Facebook, shared sites, or instant messaging for accessible on demand updates? Remember that when it comes to “how will the changes impact me?” and “what’s in it for me?” the most effective source of information is still the direct supervisor.
- Recognize that different individuals within each group of stakeholders view work satisfaction differently, so design your strategies and benefits accordingly. You might have to dig deeper to connect to what is valued by different factions in your stakeholder ecosystem. The key is to know your people well enough that you understand what motivates them. Reinforcement that misses the mark can actually demotivate.
- Effective sponsorship remains a critical success factor. As roles change and lines blur it becomes even more important that change professionals understand reporting structure, as who controls an individual’s compensation, work assignments and performance evaluation will continue to matter regardless of the type of connection the individual has with the organization.
- Technology has given us many benefits. But it also is a potential source of misunderstandings if boundary expectations are not clearly communicated and agreed upon. Technology is available 24/7, but does that mean team members are expected to available 24/7 too? Talk about acceptable behavior with the team. Have this conversation as often as necessary to keep everyone on the same page.
In closing, we must ask ourselves, are we, as change management professionals, staying ahead of these workplace and worker demands? How can some of the latest change management trends help us? How can we stay ahead of these changes and adapt accordingly?
Conquering Digital Distraction, Harvard Business Review, Larry Rosen and Alexandra Samuel, 2015.
Global Teams that Work, Harvard Business Review, Tsedal Neeley, 2015.