View From The Top - strategic insight

How To Navigate Change

Remote Working
People Management
Change Management

Old ways of working have tumbled under the force of the pandemic. A new culture has emerged from the wreckage, where home working is the new normal, and digital is king. But what now? With offices starting to re-open, yet more challenges lie ahead. How can you and your team make the most of opportunities arising in the midst of disorientating change?

Unexpected change can be bewildering, frightening – and exhilarating

The Covid-19 pandemic has placed us in a harsh and unforgiving landscape, but it also gives us opportunities to discover if we are brave enough to venture out and tackle what lies ahead.

Business leaders and managers already have many of the skills to flourish in these conditions – after all, you deal with unexpected change every day. Fluidity and flexibility is in your DNA.

An Institute of Directors survey showed that one in six employers has innovated and launched new products or services as a direct result of this new landscape. The Royal Mint made visors for key workers. Gin companies turned their talents to hand sanitisers. Teachers ran remote lessons and publishers switched from print to digital issues. Leaders in all businesses have shifted gears and taken advantage of disruption.

Leaders may be hard-wired to cope with change, but you can’t do it on your own. Bringing staff on board, and keeping them, is perhaps the trickiest task. Staff are working from home, with their worries and fears more likely to be unspoken, and inspiring and supporting them will take extra effort.

Listen and identify concerns, and explore ways you can make the change less challenging

Joined-up messaging from business leaders is crucial. Use a clear narrative to explain to staff members why the change looks like it does. Stories are how we make sense of a turbulent world. People will bear many burdens, meet many hardships, as long as there is a reason, a narrative, they can follow.

A ‘storyless’ change with no explanation or narrative, and no ending in sight, is a recipe for chaos. Look at how the UK government failed to set out clear and consistent rules and reasons for the easing of lockdown, and the confusion that ensued.

Communicate the reasons for the changes, underline the benefits and welcome feedback

Remember this mantra: Be available, be approachable, be attentive. After tackling the ‘why’, leaders and managers need to concentrate on the ‘how’. Coaching staff members through this stage of change is essential – at this point you may encounter different opinions and even resistance. Listen and identify concerns, and explore ways you can make the change less challenging.

Free at last?

The biggest change we have asked our employees to navigate is the move to remote and home working. This has brought with it an inequality of experience.

Some workers are glad to avoid that long and expensive train journey to work. Some miss the chat around the water cooler. Are your team set up for home working? Or are they continually distracted by noisy flatmates on furlough, demanding children or a troublesome wi-fi connection? Are they desperate to return to the office? Or do they want to tear up that season ticket for ever?

See disruption as a chance to make things better. Reshape your life to be who you want to be.

Change is the great disruptor: there are winners and losers in mass home working, just as there are in fully staffed city centre offices. Many feel liberated, others imprisoned. Some workers welcome the long-overdue restoration of a fair work/life balance, others miss the cut and thrust of office politics, or the sense of purpose and achievement that going out to work offers.

Leaders must be sensitive, taking time to listen and coach others through this difficult time. A duty of care extends to all workers at home. Even seasoned workers, who’ve ‘seen it all’, can find this level of upheaval difficult.

Change happens in ways that aren’t always predictable

A fixed-hours culture seemed set in stone a year ago. Flexible working was often perceived as the preserve of ‘slackers’ and the uncommitted. But we’ve seen it working. We are rejecting the culture of measuring success by hours. Instead we are measuring success through outcomes.

Disruption is a chance to make things better. Team members have had opportunities for growth and personal development: polishing digital skills, mastering video conferencing, taking on new responsibilities.

Those organisations that can shepherd their workforce through times of historic change will emerge fitter, nimbler and more motivated than their competitors. That is good news for the future, because the only thing certain is that more change is around the corner.


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“See disruption as a chance to reshape things.”