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Change from A Distance:  Change Management Solutions for Remote Teams

Now that you’ve made the change to being fully remote, there are new considerations to make when it comes to rolling out a change. Whether you are introducing a new software, changing an HR policy, rebranding your company, or anything in between, the best chance you have for successful adoption of the change is to have a change management plan.

An effective change management plan consists of communications, training, stakeholder engagement, addressing resistance, and getting sponsors of the change involved in activating it. Those elements don’t go away when a change happens for a remote team, they just have to be handled in different ways.

What follows are some ideas to consider if your remote organization is undergoing a change.

Communicate everywhere and every way

There’s an old adage from the advertising business that says people need to hear things seven times in order for them to fully sink in. In a remote setting, you have to take that a step further. People need to hear things multiple times and in multiple ways. Consider how and when you share information. An internal communication plan is a great tool to ensure your messages get through. For each message to be communicated, your plan should note:

Who should send the message: Should it come from a direct supervisor or from a leader with inspirational influence?

How the message should be sent: Email? Video call? Town hall? Meeting-in-a-box? Plan to share key messages across multiple channels.

What the message should say: Choose your words wisely. Include the “why” and “what’s in it for me” in each message. Get ahead of likely questions.

Who should review and approve the message: Having those who know the audience well read or listen to the message before it goes out can protect you from a miscommunication caused by poor wording or insensitive messaging.

When the message should be sent: Plan your cadence around key milestones. Be sure to consider seniority and organizational structure when planning each communication. Think of your plan as a cascade: you don’t want a manager hearing big news about their functional area from one of their direct reports.

Be thoughtful about how you communicate sensitive information

There are certain conversations that are easier had in person. In a virtual office place that means being live and on camera. With particularly sensitive or critical information, carve out the time to schedule video calls with individuals or small groups of people. Depending on the situation, a virtual all-hands meeting or town hall can be a good option.

Listen and respond

Every communications plan should have built-in feedback loops. As you announce and roll out a big change, make sure employees know how to ask questions, submit concerns, or share their excitement. A few strategies that can be helpful during this time, and even on an ongoing basis as good practice, include:

Virtual office hours: have managers commit to being in a video call room or on a conference line during a designated two-hour window each week so team members and peers know when and how they can pop in to connect or ask a question.

An “Ask Us” inbox or messaging channel: Monitor a central inbox or channel where questions and comments can be received, triaged, and escalated to the correct person, who can then provide a thoughtful and thorough response.

FAQs and talking points: Proactively and responsively develop FAQs and talking points that employees can access or managers can use in responses to make sure everyone receives consistent, up-to-date information.

Design training for a virtual environment

Training can make or break a new initiative. In order to be effective in a virtual setting, training needs to be designed to be conducted remotely. Create interactive, concise training programs. Plan ahead to have enough time to develop an online or webinar-style training.

Make your sponsors visible from a distance

Sponsors of a project can play an important role in enhancing an employee’s desire to adopt a change. Coach sponsors on ways to champion their project from a distance, whether that is in video messaging, live events, or regular updates in email and newsletter communications.

Stand up a change champion network

A valuable way to build enthusiasm for a change is to develop a network of employees who are engaged in the change efforts. These “change champions” can participate in special events, advocate for the change, share their knowledge after participating in train-the-trainer learning sessions, and help reinforce the change. One invaluable asset of the change champion network is being able to hear from colleagues directly. Seek their feedback and ask them to actively listen to and share feedback from their peers.

Celebrate the small wins

It can be hard to maintain the energy and enthusiasm for change, even if that change is a good one, as people are experiencing it in real-time. Even though people will not be together to celebrate milestones in person, make sure to mark accomplishments and praise success. Instead of hosting a team lunch with catered food in a conference room, send everyone a gift card to order in their favorite takeout for a celebratory “team” lunch at home. Send swag or a handwritten card at key moments in the project. And don’t forget to give someone a call one-on-one sometimes to say “thank you” and “job well done”. Doing so from a distance will require more intention than it would if you happened to pass by someone’s desk, but it will have even more meaning because of the intention behind it. Are you worried your employees cringe when you call? Celebrating the wins with them as much as or more than you go to them to solve problems or announce changes is one way to prevent that from happening.