How to reboot an activity based working project that has ground to a halt

We moved and then nothing happened, is one of the typical problems while evaluating the ups and downs of an activity based working (ABW) journey. The key to success is to kick off and re-start a change that has stopped. A second problem is that the layout of the office not quite meets up to expectations and needs, and a third is that too few feel engagements. It doesn’t necessary work badly, but something itches. What and how to do then? Clearly showing to those in charge what is not working or not has been carried out as it was meant, and showing the arisen consequences due to that, is one of the things that must be done to enable a re-start. But that will not be enough. More people must be engaged, in their daily work, and the real needs should be thought through so whatever needs to be adjusted, gets attended to – otherwise the investment of time, effort, engagement and capital will be just down the drain.

Working hard on the implementation of new ways of working and a new work environment, in preparation of change, quite often results in that you stand there on the finish line with no strength or muscle left to turn preparations into everyday work life. This is a common problem if you have appointed no specific task force dedicated to hold on to the change and the implementation, not forced to return to another full-time task on D-Day of implementation.

Creating a sense of urgency (the first step of J.P. Kotter’s 8-step process for leading change) amongst those in need of and being supposed to feel and take responsibility, is often crucial. Not meaning that people in general should be threatened into a stage of anxiety, but getting those in charge to take action and to push each other in the right direction. They must get the feeling that if nothing is done, or they themselves stay unengaged, the expected change won’t come through all the way, maybe not even half way. It can even get much worse than it was before, as an office set up for an activity based workstyle, needs an organisation with managers and employees who hold a special understanding of, knowledge and approach to activity based working, to make the environment contribute to all the positive it was meant to do.

Deploying a Reboot ABW on the organisation is not to be seen as a failure. On the contrary, a re-start is always well received by everyone. Those who did not catch the message and the initial purpose of the change journey from the beginning. To those who really went all into the change and now probably are quite disappointed at the lack of positive result coming out of the change journey. A Reboot ABW is what it says: A re-start of a change supposed to lead to activity based working, that got stuck.

By closely monitoring the “gearwheels” that the processes of the organisation consist of, we could rather quickly determine what is creating the jam in the machinery and prioritise activities for resolving.

One thing not unusually found while rebooting is that the initial purpose of change not was clear or attractive. Every CEO and executive team today know they should contribute in making and keeping their organisation a great and attractive employer. In their pursuit to reach attractivity they sometimes get lost in the terminology: new ways of working, activity based working, agile, mobile, flexible, or what? And how? Depending on what kind of advisers and their understanding of ways of working and change journeys, maybe the change purpose is not formulated correctly and focus of the change has been pointed in the wrong direction. Aiming for a new way of working, you must communicate that and the whys for that at a start, and then explain that therefore we have decided to arrange our physical and digital workplace to support that. If you do it the other way, communicate the change in workplace set up, and then explain that therefore we have to change how we work. You got the point!

One other thing found while rebooting is the lack of onboarding. No matter if we want it or not, everyone will be affected by a change of workplace and new ways of working. Important is that the change manager – consultant or employed – not creates and runs a change process far away from the organisation’s ordinary processes. For example, when it comes to onboarding of employees. The responsibility of building onboarding programmes is still HR’s. The sooner the HR agents get involved in the change journey the faster the will get hold of the content in any new way of working and the new workplace. The onboarding of new employees and consultants, and of those returning from e.g. a longer leave, must be in place from the very first day. All processes must be in place and all people managers and onboarding buddies already trained for the mission. That’s success!

We can also see while rebooting a dissatisfaction of the office layout. Sometimes the layout and the zoning of the office is poorly done, but not always. It’s far more common that the initial thought of how to use the office has been countered by too many and too small home zones. Or by an uncertain management style, focusing on control and not on trust. Cultural issues!

In an activity based working reboot the mission is to identify what has got stuck and how-to re-start. While aiming for an activity based way of working the culture and behaviours must support mobility. As well as the design of the physical and digital office also must do. Behaviours and design are children of the same era. If they won’t come to support each other, creating a perfect match and a favourable arena for activity based working, nowadays one of the top aims for a workplace change. Then the change won’t come true.

Images: National Australia Bank, Melbourne designed by Woods Bagot

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Karin Ståhl is a workplace strategist at GoToWork, karin.stahl@goto.work, +46 706 21 31 50

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