Transforming old habits into new ways of working

Many people don't like change- whether it's a new way of doing things they've done quite happily for years or revamping their office space.

April 03, 2016

Unfortunately in today’s fast paced world, change is inevitable – no more so than in the workplace where new technology and an increased focus on collaboration are having a huge impact on the use of space.

With staff work habits holding a great power in the structure of the office, how does a company roll out a new workplace strategy or even move a desk without upsetting employees?

“Many staff have long-ingrained habits relating to their work space, and the power of habit is the single biggest risk to workplace change programs,” says JLL’s Associate Director of Workplace Strategy, Nathan Sri. The longer individuals are in a certain workplace arrangement, the more entrenched their habits relating to that space become.”

Sri compares die-hard work habits with an athlete’s routine training: brain scans show that elite athletes use significantly less of their brain than their non-elite counterparts. In fact, extensive research has found that the cognitive side of the brain is used less and less as athletes begin mastering actions and movements, he says.

“Practice makes permanent, not perfect. This idea can also be applied to the knowledge worker when they are transitioning to a new work space,” explains Sri.

Critical success factors

Organizations are increasingly looking for tools and approaches to sustain and grow their business performance. When it comes to rolling out a new workplace strategy it needs to be done in a way that facilitates change without causing staff anxiety that will detract from their ability to do their job.

Facilitating a change in people’s habits relies on two critical success factors; how they relate to space and technology, according to Sri. “It’s about the ability of staff to adopt the new space according to their work tasks and business drivers, and their ability to utilize the technology to drive congruent values and behaviors.”

He adds that it was important for companies to realize that the organizational change process can start a number of months before a company moves into a new space, and that this was a key factor in mitigating risk. “The fallacy is for companies to think that they need to wait for their brand new office before they can affect behavioural change among staff,” he says.

Staging behavioral changes helps break down the change into chunks that allow staff to adapt and adjust their habits in a more gradual process – preparing them for the transformation when it officially arrives.

Thinking long-term

While many leading organizations invest heavily in conceiving a new workplace design, they tended to spend far less time thinking about how the desired organizational changes will be sustained or evolve over the longer term

Dinesh Acharya, JLL’s Director of Workplace Strategy, says: “In our experience, the success of a workplace program depends largely on a well-conceived change program that considers the needs and experiences of employees and in particular, managers, in order to inspire new conversations and behaviors over time.

“Too often, change management programs focus on communicating to employees, assuming that if we inform people of the change, they will ultimately embrace it. While strategic communications are effective in many situations, the more complex initiatives that aim to drive new collaborative ways of working require a more subtle and continuous approach to managing change,” he adds.

As the change process can be complex, “training the trainer” is a successful approach to ensure changes are sustained over time.

“This typically means defining what success looks like for each business unit and tailoring the change program and activities to suit the specific needs of the business – recognizing that not everyone is at the same stage of the change journey,” says Acharya.

“This tailored approach allows business leaders to drive the cultural change going forwards which is far more effective than having an outside consultant tell people why they need to change at a single point in time,” he concludes.