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What can we learn from the COVID experience to ensure we embed change successfully in the ‘new normal’?

Businesses continue to adapt to the 'new normal' following the global pandemic. In this insight, we consider what the future holds for workplace transformation when so many ‘traditional’ elements of successful change implementation are limited. We also look at what we have we learned from dealing with these restrictions -could it actually prove beneficial for embedding change in future?

"To survive the COVID-19 pandemic, whole industries have had to continue with business as usual and stay competitive in a changing market whilst supporting their staff and customers. We now know this as the ‘new normal’."

From makeshift workspaces and tackling home-schooling, to getting to grips with lockdowns and finding the perfect-fit face mask – the past 18 months have seen everyone adapting to a different way of life. 

The organisations we work with have been no exception. To survive the COVID-19 pandemic, whole industries have had to continue with business as usual and stay competitive in a changing market whilst supporting their staff and customers. We now know this as the ‘new normal’. 

Change management is about helping people adapt to change. It is the application of a structured process and set of tools[1], homing in on the new skills and behaviours necessary for successful transformation. Over the last year, many employees have successfully adapted to the need for digital workspaces with 85% of UK-based office workers now wanting to use a hybrid approach of home and office working in the future[2]. What does this mean for the people behind the screens adapting to other types of change?

Change leaders have traditionally relied on opportunities to bring people together face-to-face to share ideas, drive engagement, build excitement, and ultimately deliver long-lasting transformation. Some recent research conducted by Prosci[3], highlighted that respondents consistently cited face-to-face interactions as the most effective form of communication in times of change. 

Without face-to-face interaction, our approach to change management during the pandemic had to pivot. Organisations must now be more intentional, creative, and driven by action to support change adoption, and some surprisingly positive implications for delivering change have resulted as a by-product.


1. Embedding change successfully relies on engaging a broad spectrum of people to ensure those impacted by change have a voice in shaping it. One of the best things about a digital environment is that there is no limit to how many people can participate, no restrictions on where they can participate from, or when or how they decide to provide input, even if this is after the event itself.

2. People like to collaborate and learn and share in different ways which creative digital collaboration tools themselves are very good at enabling. These tools have been transformational themselves in how we can work together to share ideas and plan change at the click of a button in a variety of ways, be it by voice, video, chat, polls, or even GIFs. The tools themselves also provide us with a channel where we all take up the same amount of space on the screen in the virtual workshop or meeting making it easier for some to speak up in meetings because presence and body language are not as important in virtual spaces.

3. Embedding change and change management involves inspiring colleagues as humans. Of course, change management theory tells us that leadership is one of the most important drivers of change. Getting their input, them sharing messages and showing support for transformations, unsurprisingly often quickly rallies the troops. Leaders have become more accessible as we work and embed change virtually. No longer are they constantly in different locations or locked in meeting rooms all day - they are now only one quick 15-minute video call away.

"Without face-to-face interaction, our approach to change management during the pandemic had to pivot."

So, as we look ahead to the new normal how can we navigate the challenges of embedding change remotely, as well as embracing some of its benefits?

1. Plan interactions far in advance and be purposeful about them with clear objectives and outcomes.
2. Be extra rigorous in the way that you build relationships now. We can't rely on coffee machine or water cooler chats to check in, get feedback and build relationships.
3. Utilise the vast functionality that digital collaboration tools offer (As hard as it is to keep up with advancements)

Although the pandemic and home working has had its challenges in embedding change and we have had to adapt the ways we engage people in change, we should not ignore the positives. We should continue to focus on these positives as we move further into the new normal, and who knows what will happen when we look even further into the ‘new, new, normal’…watch this space.

Katie Kelly

Associate Partner
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Katie Kelly

Associate Partner

Katie is a passionate and dynamic Business Transformation leader who is obsessed with the human side of change and continuous improvement. Katie is a Management Consultant at Oaklin and has successfully led numerous change management workstreams for largely technology centred Transformations across a breadth of industries both as an external consultant and through change management lead roles internally.

Katie has focussed her people change expertise recently by digitising the end-to-end customer journey at a financial services organisation as well as improving the end-end-customer journey at a global aerospace manufacturer during the pandemic.

Katie also sits on the CMI London Board. Katie is passionate about ensuring traditionally under-represented groups have a voice and support network in the workplace, particularly in industries and functions where challenge of workforce diversification may be further compounded, such as Digital and Technology.


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