Leading organizations are recognizing the need to implement change management programs alongside step changes in workplace design. What they have found is that changing design alone doesn’t equal adoption and use of the space as intended. Moving from an enclosed to an open and connected office, for example, involves a transition for employees. Managing the transition is crucial for the successful adoption of a new space.

Robyn Baxter has helped many organizations manage this transition as Vice President and Regional Leader of Consulting for HOK Canada. She brings her knowledge and expertise to world class organizations that are redefining their workplace. Robyn will also be speaking later this month at CoreNet Global’s “The Bigger Picture” Summit in Philadelphia about how change management creates resilient workplaces.

We had a chance to sit down with her and discuss change management in the workplace.

Change Management and the Workplace


Workplace designs are changing to reflect new business realities (Photo: HOK Toronto)

As organizations continue to undergo changes in their business environment, they often require changes in workplace design. For example, cutting costs has shifted focus on real estate. Floorplate sizes are being reduced while maintaining employee head count. Hot desking in open offices is a common solution to square footage reductions. However, workers don’t always respond as intended to a new workplace design.

Robyn explains that space is personal and there is an inherent concern from employees when their personal space is changing. It can raise issues around their status at work, old habits or even concerns around access and visibility to leadership. Design doesn’t follow the adage “if you build it, they will come”, especially in a changing workplace. Instead, what can happen with a new design is that people get frustrated. They don’t understand why the changes are happening or why they’re being forced out of their offices. Eventually they leave.

But while concerns about employees must be managed, pressure to reduce real estate costs is a reality that has to be dealt with. It’s important not to sacrifice one at the expense of the other, Baxter explains.

“Change management is about dealing with the behavioural side of physical change. The real estate math and savings are easy to determine. We understand it and can make it work, but you have to put the effort in for that to happen”. That effort is the process of change management.

Facilitating Effective Change Management


Merely building a space doesn’t guarantee it will be used (Photo: HOK Toronto)

By using a change management program alongside your workplace design, better results and adoption by employees can be achieved.  We discuss several effective tactics with Robyn on what a successful change management program should involve.

Assemble the Right Team and Buy-In

Having the right players buying into the program from the start is essential. While the team varies on a project to project basis, Robyn notes several common components for successful change management:

An engaged executive: Someone with the trust and respect of employees. They don’t have to the be the CEO, but their endorsement of the program should carry weight.

A passionate integrator: This is someone who is willing to roll up their sleeves and take responsibility for success. It can often be a VP of Real Estate or HR for example.

Buy in throughout the governance structure: This means ensuring that everyone throughout the organization is aware of the time and resources required for effective change. Employees may be required to undergo training, go on tours of spaces or give feedback. The human resource aspect of the change management process is often overlooked.

A change team: The size of the team can vary but it is important to ensure that people aren’t running change management off the side of their desk or part time. The effort required is substantial. As such, assembling a team that is accountable and able to devote their time to the effort is required.

Engage employees early

Robyn notes that change management should start as soon as a you decide to move spaces. Talking to employees about the nature of change and being intentional and explicit about the reasons for change help to dispel anxiety and also rumours. It’s easy for people to assume the worst when they lack information.

Create a guided discussion

When you go into the process of engaging further with employees, Baxter cautions that it’s important to ask questions you are willing to address. Taking feedback and then ignoring it will actually do more harm than good.

Further, consider the culture of your organization and the level of feedback employees would be willing to give. In a top-down heavy structure, employees are likely conditioned to receive orders from the top and follow. Asking them questions they know will not be considered won’t be received well. Similarly, in a very inclusive structure, more engagement will be required.

Look at the right metrics

To measure success, Robyn and her team look at metrics such as engagement and perceptions within the workplace. While productivity is hard to measure, it is possible to see how employees perceive their productivity is impacted. Employee attitudes towards certain spaces also serves as an important indicator.