Why Some Organizations Successfully Implement New Workplace Initiatives While Others are Stuck in Pilot Mode

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New Ways of Working, a research consortium focused on alternative workplace solutions, investigated barriers to implementing new ways of working and identified good/best practices for program success. Cultural issues of entitlement and trust scored highest among the barriers affecting workplace change.

When workers feel they can choose, they perceive new ways of working as a benefit. When they feel forced, they feel something is being taken away from them.

New Ways of Working, a research consortium focused on alternative workplace solutions, released its latest research report, Overcoming Barriers to New Ways of Working. Based on interviews with real estate and facility executives and managers at 14 major organizations, the report provides an inside look into the elements of a successful workplace implementation and identifies good/best practices for program success.

“We observed that, despite the rapid adoption of new ways of working in the past several years, penetration into mainstream practice remains low,” said Joe Aki Ouye, co-founder of New Ways of Working (New WOW). “New WOW’s benchmark studies consistently found the same barriers. Cultural issues of entitlement and trust scored highest among the barriers affecting workplace change.” So New WOW decided to investigate the barriers confronting organizations wanting to transition to new ways of working and how these organizations surmounted or were stymied by them.

Participating organizations included AT&T, Cisco Systems, Deere & Co., GSA, Pfizer, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Raytheon, Roche, SAP, Sprint/Nextel, Statoil, TIAA-CREF, Vodafone, and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.

Several common themes emerged from the research. Over and over, the interviews stressed the importance of data and need for a strong fact base to convince management that new ways made business sense. Organizations measured occupancy and workspace utilization, commute behaviors, social network size and distribution, employee engagement, churn rates and technology use.

However, the stress on more and more data for proof of concept could lead to an overemphasis on data collection and a tendency to become stuck in pilot mode. Half of the organizations in New WOW’s study were conducting pilots and not all were beginners. In fact, some were still piloting after ten years of workplace experimentation.

Cultural challenges were mentioned by nearly two-thirds of the organizations in the study. Respondents struggled with how to address negative attitudes among employees and management, fear of change, entitlement concerns, and company traditions.

Active change management, informational campaigns, and employee engagement helped organizations overcome resistance to workplace change. Perhaps the most important lesson was providing employees choice over where and how they worked whenever possible. “There’s a tension between the “top-down” approach versus the “choice” approach,” observed Jim Creighton, Network Director for New WOW. “Our experience is when workers feel they can choose, they perceive new ways of working as a benefit. When they feel forced, they feel something is being taken away from them.”

About the study
The study was guided by New WOW’s research committee, which included Clark Sept from Business Place Strategies, Inc., Roland Openshaw from Pfizer, Ingrid Schembri with VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, Gabor Nagy from Haworth, and Jim Creighton and Joe Aki Ouye with New Ways of Working Network. June Langhoff conducted the interviews and wrote the report.

About New Ways of Working
New Ways of Working (New WOW) is a membership organization of thought leaders from companies and academia exploring new ways of working such as distributed work (telework), environmental sustainability and work, cross-cultural work, innovation and productivity. Members take an interactive approach to workplace change, combining insights from corporate real estate, human resources, and information technology. Sponsoring organizations include Haworth, a global leader in the design and manufacture of office furniture and workspace, and Smart Technologies Inc., the industry leader in group collaboration tools.

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