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Change From a Distance: Change Management Solutions for the Transition to Remote Work

Change is never a small deal. Leaders who don’t believe that can do a small experiment: tell your team you will be moving them one desk over. Just one desk. See what happens.

It will most likely go something like this: First, people will look around anxiously. They’ll murmur to their coworkers, wondering why, asking if anyone knows what is going on. Then they’ll start raising concerns to leadership. They’ll demand to know why or ask if something is wrong or offer up compelling reasons why, sure, their coworkers could relocate but they should be allowed to stay at their desk. A few people will be excited- the ones whose desks are right in front of windows, so they heat up every afternoon and the glare is too strong. Some who should be excited, though, will resist anyway. And this is all over moving one desk away. Change is a big deal.

The shift to remote work, especially for those organizations that are transitioning to being fully remote, means change is unavoidable. In this two-part series, we’ll explore some solutions to managing the change to being remote and then managing other changes while working remotely.

For a successful transition to remote work, leaders will need to harness change management best practices to minimize business disruption and maximize employee morale.

Set up effective infrastructure

You have to have the sheetrock up and the electricity switched on in a building before you can move people in. A shift to virtual work is no different. The same considerations leaders take into account when designing an office have to be in place when creating a virtual work environment. People need shared spaces. They need open doors. They need ways to ask questions and give updates.

In a remote workplace, these elements become virtual, but no less important. To ease the stress of the change, organizations should ensure they have effective ways to communicate and collaborate built right into their office “infrastructure” with tools like:

  • Intranets, e.g., SharePoint
  • Messaging platforms, e.g., Slack
  • Collaboration systems, e.g., Microsoft Teams
  • Email
  • Conference lines
  • Video calling platform

Training

Don’t assume everyone is comfortable using the new technology involved in being fully remote. Take the time to offer tutorials, guidance, and ongoing updates on how to use the platforms you choose.

Set clear expectations

Your team needs to know what is expected of them in order to be comfortable with the change. Working remotely can come with new benefits and challenges and is inevitably going to come with unintended consequences. Set expectations for working hours, flexibility, whether people should be on camera for calls, dress codes for video meetings, etc. Then clearly, and concisely communicate those expectations. Knowing the expectations is the only way employees can meet them. Continue to let these expectations evolve as time progresses. Even organizations that embraced working from home before going fully remote will encounter new needs and strategies.

Listen to Feedback 

If someone isn’t performing in an expected way or a team isn’t meeting desired metrics, investigate why. Listen to feedback you receive and respond with intention. The same way different people will react differently to moving desks, different employees will experience the change to a remote shift in different ways. You will need to seek out a variety of feedback, rather than listening only to the most vocal supporters or resistors. As you gather feedback, pay close attention to evidence that employees are confused or inhibited in their performance for reasons out of their control, but well within yours. Almost always, resistance to change comes from a lack of understanding or ability caused by an emotional reaction rather than a desire to rebel.

Communicate, communicate, communicate

Being remote requires a new level of intention when it comes to keeping in touch with teams. Reach your teams via multiple channels. Make sure employees know how to reach you when they need support. Create ways to reach employees with pertinent information, such as newsletters, intranet updates, and shared messaging channels. Make time to connect with people on a personal level – you won’t be able to ask about their weekend when you pass them in the hallway, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t create that hallway moment from afar. Most important, make sure your team understands why the change to remote work is happening.

Understand the ongoing support your team needs

This includes emotional, financial, and physical support. Does your team need new web cameras or desk chairs? Is setting up a home office putting an undue financial burden on your employees? Can they get IT help in a timely fashion when their computer acts up? Build support systems in as you build your remote infrastructure and continue adapting as both evolve. This need for support is one element you should always be on high alert for as you hear feedback from the team. But know that the best way to curb resistance to change and ensure enthusiastic adoption is to preemptively provide the support your people need.

Don’t underestimate the power of a care package

As your team moves remote, don’t be afraid to celebrate the change with swag. It is key to provide ongoing support and encouragement through any transition in order to reinforce the changes you want to see. Sending mouse pads, comfy socks, mugs, a pound of coffee, or a sweet treat to spice up someone’s home office can be a great way to say, “We’re still thinking of you even if we aren’t seeing you in person today.” You know your team is wearing pajamas to work while they’re at home, why not send some cozy company-branded slippers?