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Make It Work: Uncertainty and Change Management

We live in a world in which things are constantly changing. Despite dealing with it almost daily, humans generally fear change because it disrupts the familiarity and safety we feel from our usual routines. The COVID-19 pandemic has created enormous change and unprecedented uncertainty for many of us. In this column, we will explore how some foundational change management techniques may help you in working from home.

You may have heard about or encountered change management as a discipline or technique, which companies use to successfully manage proposed organizational changes. Basically, it involves:  

  • Thoroughly evaluating and modifying the changes to ensure they make sense for your organization by getting feedback from your management team and stakeholders;  
  • Developing a detailed plan for effectuating those changes; and  
  • Clearly communicating the changes to be made and the reasons for those changes to all affected parties.  

The last point is critical, because otherwise the affected parties will be afflicted by uncertainty, which will trigger fear and resistance. Therefore, the other parties will be less likely to cooperate and will instead undermine or resist the changes you plan to make, making them harder to implement.  

For many of us, working from home not only involves developing new routines for ourselves but also for fellow household members. You may have a significant other who is also working from home or children who are taking virtual classes during the pandemic. All of us are under unusual stress, so ensuring that our changes will not unduly disrupt each other’s is critical to an effective temporary workplace. Let’s walk through some of the change management practices that might make things easier.  

1. Evaluate the changes  

Begin by evaluating the changes you think should occur as a household. Get feedback from any of the members of your household who can provide it (taking the needs of pets or infants needs into account). You may be surprised at how often this results in a better change set than you could develop on your own. It will also help your household express their uncertainties and fears; airing those fears will often make everyone feel more comfortable and less alone.  

2. Develop a plan  

Develop a detailed plan to effectuate those changes by asking a few questions. Would it help your household to keep strict work times, or to keep a shared calendar so that household members can anticipate when you are going to be in a virtual meeting, or to put signs on a door during those meetings? Do you need to share a computer or ask members to disengage from your WiFi network during virtual meetings so that you will have enough bandwidth to participate effectively? Will your children need help at particular times with their virtual schooling? Would it help any household members to consider purchasing particular gear to make their working from home easier or more fun? Be creative and thorough — it may make sense to set up an office in your garage or kitchen, but that may entail other tradeoffs you need to consider.  

3. Communicate the changes  

Make sure that your household members fully understand the changes you plan to make, why you plan to make them, and that they will have a voice in modifying those changes as experience requires. Remember, no battle plan survives contact with the enemy. In other words, plans need to be flexible in rapidly evolving situations.  

Parting thoughts  

Some of this is advice works even if you live alone. Try to anticipate what you will need to remain as happy and productive as possible. Be sure to understand your own uncertainties and what fears they may trigger and make some contingency plans to help you feel more prepared.  

Most importantly, develop a plan around the changes you want to make, and make sure you try to get feedback from colleagues and friends who are dealing with the same issues. We are all in this together even if we are physically separated. It helps to share.

About the Author

Gregory SternGreg Stern is formerly global integration counsel at Chubb Group of Insurance Companies, and is presently ACC Docket’s Tech Toolbox columnist. [email protected]


The information in any resource collected in this virtual library should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion on specific facts and should not be considered representative of the views of its authors, its sponsors, and/or ACC. These resources are not intended as a definitive statement on the subject addressed. Rather, they are intended to serve as a tool providing practical advice and references for the busy in-house practitioner and other readers.