Hybrid working environments are here to stay. As leaders and their people find ways to help remote and co-located teams work productively together, managing change remains challenging.

Hybrid working environments are now commonplace as organisations continue to evolve beyond the disruptions of recent years. Having experienced a significant amount of change in the workplace over a relatively short timeframe, most organisations have found ways to make it possible for co-located and remote teams to flex without major hits to productivity and outcomes.

However, delivering change into an organisation remains challenging and while hybrid environments can make it seem even more so, it is the right time to reflect on how change is typically managed and the effect that a hybrid workplace has on how we communicate and implement change.

‘Above the line’ vs ‘below the line’ communication strategy

Effective internal communication is a critical component of change management in any work setting, hybrid or otherwise. Reaching the audience, engaging them with the right message at the right time, and motivating them into action or understanding why change is occurring is a vital part of encouraging buy-in and adoption on the change journey.

There are many modes of delivering news and vital information to people across the business, especially when there are initiatives or major transformations underway and it can be helpful to look at ‘above the line’ and ‘below the line’ methods when considering how to communicate change. While these are often used to explain marketing and advertising communication approaches, applying the techniques behind them to change communication can help leaders to effectively engage diverse groups of stakeholders in the most appropriate way and at the right time.

Above the line: ATL

Communicating with a large group of people needs wide-range messaging to introduce and drive organisational change. Some techniques might include announcements, media release, internal memorandums, and traditional onsite methods like signage, posters, and easy-to-see techniques.

These effectively drive a consistent message to a board audience, are generally more formal, and enable engagement in physical and remote environments. What they tend to miss is the ability to fine-tune or narrow down the message to individual groups and if your teams aren’t always on campus, these branded messages are generally less effective. Even with minimum mandatory days in the office, the volume and frequency of eyeballs on the message is far lower than at full-time capacity.

For virtual teams, additional challenges can be ensuring the message is getting beyond the screen, but also the use of message boards, anonymous feedback, or virtual engagement can be quite impersonal.

In a hybrid setting, ATL techniques are useful for reach and creating awareness of change. Where it’s less effective is building the relationship and influencing action or motivating people into action. That’s where below-the-line techniques can have more impact.

Below the Line: BTL

One of the chief challenges of a hybrid environment is that the less informal below-the-line techniques have fewer opportunities to support change. Rubbing shoulders with influencers in the lift and dropping a hint about the exciting update coming to the business happens less often, as does the ability to take people for a coffee or have a quick conversation about what in it for them with the upcoming changes that are about to land.

For many leaders and staff, doing these things virtually seems more forced and lacks the authenticity of a spontaneous – however engineered – interaction or have the same kind of impact.

During lockdown, a lot of the attempts made by leaders and teams to connect socially found conversation limited by the single mic or the reality that the single channel couldn’t facilitate off-side conversation between groups of two or three that might happen in a real-world social interaction where multiple conversations could occur concurrently and allow participants to float between conversations. Virtual conversations usually meant a lot of participants simply observed.

While this all sounds negative, many organisations found ways to create personal interaction to get engagement and motivation for change into action.

They identified people who could naturally lead the conversation (and who were not always at the top of the org chart), and who would organically engage with others to provide guidance, help and support. These were the best people to engage about change one-on-one, either remotely or as teams started returning to work, in the days they were in the office. Many of these people would adopt change early and foster conversations around the underway or coming changes. This approach can easily be encouraged in a hybrid work environment.

While it can be more challenging to identify these people when you can’t easily observe their interactions with others in an open workspace, some natural communicators adapt to working across virtual and physical with greater ease than others.

Consider helping them to lead focus groups and small group settings that are possible to run virtually or physically to work with teams, fine-tune the message to individual target audiences and engage them on a more personal and influential level.

ATL + BTL: Why a combined approach is most successful

Hybrid working would have many leaders thinking that focusing only on ATL techniques is the only way to drive through change messaging, as BTL techniques can feel too difficult to make them work. But it’s not the case.

There is a lot of evidence in the marketing and internal communications worlds to showcase that a combined ATL and BTL approach is the best path to landing change.

ATL strategies will create awareness but may not be enough to create action.  BTL strategies may take a bit more effort and time to initiate, which can easily be factored into the planning process.  BTL techniques are still the best strategy to reach people personally and build motivation and desire to change.

Change management strategies for hybrid work

Leading change in hybrid-work models requires a fresh approach to change management, keeping in mind that many organisations have experienced post-pandemic change exhaustion and a lack of change capacity among workers. Here are some key ways forward:

  • Clear communication: establish clear and consistent communication channels that work for all employees.
  • Emphasise collaboration: foster a culture of collaboration and teamwork and create opportunities for in-person and remote workers to work together.
  • Maintain organisational culture: prioritise company culture and values and find new ways to reinforce them in a hybrid work environment.
  • Focus on outcomes: shift focus from hours worked to productivity and outcomes.
  • Provide technology and support: equip workers with the right technology and resources to work effectively in a hybrid environment.
  • Encourage Two-Way Communication: Effective communication is not just about conveying information; it’s also about receiving feedback from stakeholders. Encouraging two-way communication can help identify concerns, clarify misunderstandings, and increase engagement.
  • Encourage flexibility: The hybrid work environment requires flexibility, both from the organisation and its employees. Change management strategies should be adaptable and flexible to accommodate changing circumstances.
  • Be proactive: This applies irrespective of the environment as communicating change can easily be misinterpreted when

Leadership is critical

Change management is a complex and multifaceted process that presents several challenges for businesses. One of the most significant challenges is resistance from stakeholders who may be sceptical about the changes or do not see them as necessary. Other challenges can include communication breakdowns, lack of leadership support, inadequate resources, and poor planning.

These are common to any environment – onsite, remote, or hybrid.

Leaders must lead by example when it comes to change management. By demonstrating openness to change, a willingness to adapt, and a positive attitude, leaders can influence how other stakeholders perceive the change and encourage them to embrace it.

For more information about how Quay Consulting can support your team to implement change via successful project delivery, contact us here or call 1300 841 048

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