How to help your people get back to work as quickly (and happily) as possible.

If in life the only constant is change, then in the office, resistance to change is even more certain.

While some people will be open and even excited about new office possibilities (lean on these change ambassadors—more on that below), others will have a visceral reaction to it or a delayed path to acceptance not unlike the seven stages of grief.

And why shouldn’t they? We spend a third of our lives at work. A major workplace change, like a relocation or renovation, is more than a physical adjustment. It represents an organizational, functional and even cultural shift—something your employees may not be ready for.

This isn’t to say your efforts to assuage their fears are futile but rather, this is why they’re so necessary. Because it works. A study conducted by the International Workplace Studies Program at Cornell University found that among companies that had moved, a greater investment in change management produced better employee satisfaction with their new workplaces. In fact, companies that spent more change management dollars per person more than doubled employee commitment to the new workplace strategy. 

Employees will transition on their own eventually. But it is with a proactive, people-first perspective that we help them get back to work as quickly (and happily) as possible.

Three ways to champion change management

A successful change management strategy generates understanding, provides ownership and builds excitement among employees. Here are some tips on how you can make that happen for your people, with examples we’ve put into practice during our own workplace revitalization at Chicago’s Aon Center.

INFORM

A smooth transition relies on regular, direct communication to address the anxieties, questions and concerns of your people.

Craft the big message: Think of this as branding your change. It sets the tone and establishes priorities for the move, and informs all communication that follows so that messaging is aligned. At a minimum, it should address what’s happening, why it’s changing, and the significance of the result. Better connectivity? More cohesion? Stronger client commitment? Let them know.

Reinforce past progress: This step is often left out of change management strategies, but it’s significant in framing the move. As you share your strategy, take stock of how far you’ve come in your current space. Acknowledge what your people have accomplished before diving into all the things that need to change. Help them understand this transition as part of the natural progression of the firm. And more importantly, that they made that growth possible. This will help them view it as a strategic shift instead of a reactionary solution.

Communicate frequently: Silence is fertile ground for fear and confusion. Consistent communication is critical to employee buy-in. Craft a plan and schedule a series of communications that cover key announcements, deadlines and updates. And strive to produce bonus content that’s purely for curiosity.

As you inch closer to your move date, ramp up communication. As we complete each phase of our headquarters redesign, we launch a countdown a week in advance. Along with standard details like how to label your boxes, we supply employees with an interactive PDF welcome guide that shares important first-day info like new technology instructions (including links to training videos), a map of their floor and news about fun first week events. Frequent reminders and useful tips help employees prepare and get excited, so that when they arrive on day one, they know what to expect.

Anticipate questions: Answer as many questions as you can upfront—especially the big ones surrounding strategy and decision making. For our redesign, we recorded interviews with the core leadership team to uncover who’s behind the decisions, how we arrived at them and how employees were central to that process. The videos aired each week via an internal newsletter. They answered a lot of common questions, humanized our decision making process and bolstered confidence in the new strategy.

After you address strategy, provide details about the space itself. When the members of JLL’s Sao Paulo office moved to a new workplace, they released a series of short email newsletters leading up to the move. They produced a total of 18 issues, each covering a specific topic about the new space, from new amenities and technology, to the surrounding neighborhood and new floorplan.

Use multiple channels: For each message, consider which medium—or combination—would best reach the most people. Tailor the delivery to different groups, and spread your communication across email, internal newsletters, in-office signage, videos and social media. Introduce a hashtag (like #OfficeRenew) to spur more conversation and differentiate move news from general bulletins.

ENGAGE

The path to productivity is paved with engagement. Your project’s success relies on employees’ commitment to the space and interest in helping it work better. Earn their commitment by including them in the process—from start to finish.

Conduct employee questionnaires: The first step to engagement is including people in your strategy. No one likes surprises, so ask for their input. A series of employee questionnaires (before during and after your move) will help guide your workplace decisions and make sure they stick.

Listen and then act: Know that no matter how well you communicate or how many questions you anticipate, there will be more. Many more. Set up a process for receiving and processing feedback, including a digital portal, a network of ambassadors, and in-person employee focus groups. Also—and this is crucial—address concerns swiftly.

Identify influencers: Remember the change ambassadors from before? These are your move marketers. Create a network of people across the organization who are eager to educate and engage people about the new space. But remember, they’re not just a mouthpiece for corporate communication. They’re also a touchpoint for questions and useful feedback.

During our office renewal, we also made it a priority to lead by example. We identified power users, executives and leadership to welcome people to the space and share, in their own words, why this is exciting. It instills pride and drives engagement when you see people across the organization getting involved.

Give sneak previews: Build anticipation of a new space by having your people preview and vote on features. Ask for input on what to name your new cafe. And as construction nears completion, offer guided tours of the space. At Aon, we brought people up to a sample floor so they could see the fixtures, finishes and take a look at how the new workstations were configured.

Oswald Companies, a Cleveland-based and employee-owned insurance brokerage and risk management firm, took it one step further and made their sample workstations usable. The company set up a modular site in the old space so their people could go in and test it out. The extra effort was worth it because they were facing a big change, going from traditional office cubes to open workstations. A test period helped everyone acclimate—and get excited about their new digs.

Train on new tools and processes: When we make changes to the workplace, we expect employees will use it a bit differently. But that knowledge isn’t intuitive. Train employees on new technology, outline new policies (like rules for quiet zones), and (once you’ve moved in) role play how to use the space as it was intended.

To help employees at our headquarters get the hang of new technology, we worked with outside vendors to develop a series of video tutorials. We also scheduled group and individual training sessions so people could have access to both live training and on-demand resources. And during initial move-in days, we have people standing by to assist with technology set up.

CELEBRATE

The key to celebrating your new space is really not to celebrate the space at all. You’re not celebrating aesthetics or even functionality. You’re celebrating your people and the significant progress you’ve made together.

Make it an event: Completing a workplace transformation is no insignificant task. Your people deserve to celebrate, plus a strong kickoff in your new space sets the stage for what’s to come. The hardest part is done, so enjoy it.

During the Phase 2 reveal at our corporate headquarters, we offered breakfast, snacks and free beverages all day. For ambiance, we had music, branded videos and even a ribbon-cutting ceremony to generate buzz for this big milestone.

Play up the perks: You don’t need a grand gesture, but find little ways to get people excited. To celebrate our space reveal, we held a raffle and themed giveaways for items like a Fitbit or a month of free coffee with even further incentives for the first 200 visitors to the new space.

When Oswald Companies moved into their new office, they invited all 250 employee-owners based at the HQ to enjoy “Walnut Wednesday,” a food truck forum in downtown Cleveland right by the new office. Every day that week they scheduled something special for employees. One day they organized gift card giveaways to local restaurants and businesses. They even held a scavenger hunt outside the office so people could get used to the new surroundings and see the neighborhood.

It doesn’t have to be elaborate. Offer free breakfast and bring in the good bagels. Whatever suits your culture and gets people excited about showing up.

Personalize it: Bring a human element to your workplace transformation. The physical before and after is alluring and quite obvious, but there’s also a wave of employee transformation the moment you move in. Tell that story! Capture and share employee reactions, record casual interviews after they’ve settled in to see what’s been the best, or biggest, adjustment. Showcase their particular desk accessories with a quick, five-question bio. Internal initiatives like this keep the workplace conversation (and excitement) in motion long after the move-in date.

The specific methods by which you inform, engage and celebrate your people will vary, but a commitment to these three pillars will minimize productivity loss and preserve morale through change. Though employees may initially find change overwhelming and inconvenient, above those base concerns sits the feeling of being valued.

A clear, supportive change management experience says, we care about your experience here. And that the reason things are changing is because leadership built a better environment specifically with you in mind.

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About the author

JLL Staff Reporter, Behind-the-scenes
A team passionate about delivering valuable content and tools about workplace to help you deliver the best experience to your employees.

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