DATE: 09/08/2015

Lease agreement? Check. Open office furniture? Check. Employees on board? Uh boss, we got a problem..

Employee change management – it can be the difference between successfully transitioning to the open office of your dreams and scratching your head one Friday afternoon, wondering where it all went wrong.

As companies continue to switch to collaborative workspaces at record speeds – hoping to gain more creatively engaged employees, enhanced productivity and a more modern appearance – news articles continue to be published, highlighting the businesses who just “didn’t get it right.”

As a player in the interior solutions industry over the past 20 years, we can honestly say we’ve seen and heard it all. And most of the negative studies we’ve read, and the situations we’ve encountered, were highly influenced by employees within large organizations who either a). Had substantial management/company culture problems to begin with or b). Underestimated the level of preparation needed to successfully ready employees for such a change.

Take the time to build a company culture based on collaboration, inclusivity and respect months before the change, and you’ll likely experience a smoother transition with minimal turnover. Here now are 3 steps to creating an employee change management plan that works:

Adopt An Open-Communication Policy

As with any major change, your employees will likely have lots of questions: What are the benefits for adopting an open-office plan? What sort of changes can we expect? And why now? Not only is it important to be 100 percent transparent, it’s important to pro-actively answer any and all expected questions. The more your staff understands the primary motivations for making the switch the more confident they will feel in your decision making abilities. Also, the sooner you inform them of the change the more time they’ll have to get used to the idea.

Create a Task Force

Pharmaceutical company Sanofi Canada assembled what they called “change ambassadors” to aide their year-long transition. They began by dividing three groups of 10 employees into sub-groups tasked with managing various functions related to the open-office transition: Behavioral change, technological issues and environmental changes. The ambassadors then acted as liaisons between upper-management and staff, collecting feedback and bringing light to any issues that arose. Not only did this improve overall communication, it also made the staff feel like they had a say in shaping the organization’s changing culture.

Create a Mock Open Office

Another thing Sanofi did to prepare employees for the transition was making small environmental tweeks. The company enacted an “open door” challenge to encourage employees with closed offices to commit to keeping their doors open for one month. They also simulated the small work spaces the new collaborative office would provide by furnishing empty rooms with chairs and work surfaces that encouraged ad hoc conferences.

Facilitate “Icebreaker” Opportunities

One of the biggest concerns employees have about transitioning to an open office space is if they’ll get along with their co-workers. You can ease these concerns by facilitating “opportunities for employees to get to know one another as people. This can be done many ways, including group improv games, timed “speed dating” Q&As and trivial pursuit game sessions. The important thing is not to host a regular mixer where people tend to stay in the comfort zones and ask the same ole’ questions.

Distribute Open Office Guidelines

Finally, consider distributing a set of behavioral guidelines to ensure everyone is on the same page before making the transition. They should address topics like vocal volume, music playing, conflict resolution and so on. The clearer the protocol the more likely employees are to follow it AND feel confident they’ll be able to complete work without getting disrupted.