I have had the privilege to take part in both digital and physical workplace transformations. According to my experience, the key to success in both, lies in a cultural change.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines culture as the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a social group. I guess, in the case of a company, the social group is the people working in the company or in a very close relationship with it. During my career, I have seen many successful workplace transformations but even more not so successful ones. When analysing the difference between the two, it seems quite clear that the successful transformations have always involved a cultural change.
In other words, the customary beliefs and social forms of the company have evolved during the transformation process. This has supported the new way of working in such a way that the employees have started using the new workplace in a desired way not by forcing but by their own will instead.
I will give you a few examples: As a part of the former company culture, the line managers were physically close to their team at the office and they managed their team by observation. The team communication was done physically by talking face-to-face.
In the new company culture, the team members can work anywhere at the office and the team management is based on trust and results. Physical communication within the team is done in team meetings or ad hoc when the team members happen to bump into each. However, a big part of the communication is done online using various chat tools.
Another example is project work. In the former culture, projects were managed through reports prepared and presented to the management team in monthly meetings. The top management was rarely seen by the employees and the only way to communicate about the projects was in these formal meetings.
In the new culture, the top management has given up their private offices. They do their office work amongst the other employees and are much more in touch with the daily life of the company. There isn’t any more so much need for the reporting, and time can be spent in the more productive parts of the project work.
So how do such cultural transformations take place?
In my view, the change management must include two things: top level commitment and the participation of all employees. In order to have full top level commitment, everyone in the management team must understand the transformation in the same way. A good way to achieve a common understanding is through a management team workshop.
Professionally moderated workshops are also very effective in employee participation. Often, it is not possible to have all the employees participate in the workshops. In that case, there could be an employee advocate group that has representatives from all the different functions within the company. These advocates can be like pioneers, spreading the message and new practices to their peers. This is a much more effective way than traditional trainings where the employees are not given the possibility to influence the way the culture is being built.
Another tool which I have found to be very effective, is online discussion sessions with voluntary participation. In these sessions there is a moderator who leads the discussion around the topics the participants bring in. In the discussions, people can talk about all the things that puzzle them about the new working environment. When discussing together, good solutions for different user cases can be created.
The workplace, digital or physical, is provided by the employer. However, the company culture is built by all the employees using it. The important thing is that the management takes lead and manages the change.
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