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Episode 122

Change Management and Communication in Uncertain Times

with Annemarie Fleming of IFMA NYC and Andrea Sanchez of the IFMA Foundation

Annemarie Fleming is GWI Chair & Webinar Moderator for IFMA NYC and Andrea Sanchez is Marketing/Communications Chair and Trustee at the IFMA Foundation. Annemarie and Andrea joined Mike Petrusky and his co-host Madison Dujka on a recent “Workplace Innovator Interactive Livestream” to discuss change management strategies and practical communication tips to help lead your organizations through these uncertain times. This highlight episode offers valuable insights delivered during our weekly live broadcast happening every Wednesday at Noon ET.

Space-Right Safe Distancing Made Simple

Connect with Annemarie on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/annemarie-fleming/

Connect with Andrea on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/acsanchez/

Watch the full livestream recording: https://www.iofficecorp.com/webinar-download-workplace-innovator-interactive-livestream19

View all past livestream recordings: https://www.iofficecorp.com/resources?type=livestreams

Discover free resources and explore past interviews at: https://www.workplaceinnovator.com/

Connect with Mike on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mikepetrusky/

Share your thoughts with Mike via email: podcast@iOFFICECORP.com

Read the full transcript:

Mike P. (00:01):

Hey, do you want more insightful conversations? Many of the topics we discuss here around workplace design and strategy are also explored in depth at Work Design Magazine. You'll find many of my past guests contributing to the site. And coming soon, I'll welcome publisher Bob Fox to the show. He'll talk about the winning submissions and the fascinating findings from the next work environment competition. So be a workplace innovator and subscribe for free today at workdesign.com. Thanks.

Annemarie Fleming (00:35):

There seems to be a fault line between kind of somebody's core personality and whether they're comfortable with remote working versus whether they want to be back in offices.

Andrea Sanchez (00:44):

Even the most amazing change management plans may not be successful in changing everybody, and that's okay.

Mike P. (00:50):

This is the Workplace Innovator podcast, where we talk with corporate real estate and facility management leaders about the industry trends and technologies impacting your organization. This show is powered by iOFFICE, the leading employee experience focused IWMS software that delivers real-time data and mobile tools to help you intelligently manage your digital workplace.

         Hey everybody, Mike P. Here. Welcome to the show. This is Episode 122, if my math is correct, of the Workplace Innovator podcast. I was told there'd be no math when I agreed to host this little program, but we shall press on. This week I'm excited to share with you some highlights from a recent interactive live stream conversation with two incredible change management and communication experts, Annemarie Fleming, and Andrea Sanchez, both great friends of the podcast. They've been on before. And also both part of the IFMA community, Annemarie serving up in the New York city chapter, and Andrea Sanchez, who lives down near the facility management mothership, Houston, Texas, home of the IFMA global headquarters, and also home to iOFFICE, and my cohost Madison Dujka. We had a really fun and interesting conversation, and I want to share as much of it as I can with you today. So let's get right to it.

         We are back again. Hi everybody. Welcome to the Workplace Innovate... I can't say it. Let me try again. Let's do a take two.

Madison Dujka (02:29):

Ready?

Mike P. (02:30):

Hey everybody. Welcome to the Workplace Innovator interactive live stream. I'm Mike, and this is Maddie. Hey Maddie.

Madison Dujka (02:38):

Hey, how's it going?

Mike P. (02:39):

It's going well.

Madison Dujka (02:39):

You doing okay now?

Mike P. (02:41):

I don't know. That was a rough start. Well, that's what the show is all about. It's not just informational, but hopefully a little bit inspirational. We're going to have some fun. Let's invite our guests to join us. Here they are, Annemarie Fleming and Andrea Sanchez. Welcome to the show, both of you. How are today, Andrea? Great to see you again.

Andrea Sanchez (03:01):

Great to see you guys, too. You guys are always family, so nice to be on here. Thanks for the invitation.

Mike P. (03:07):

Well, that means so much. And over these past few years, we've certainly interacted a lot and now you have been on our Workplace Innovator podcast. About a year and a half ago, we did a webinar together. What are you up to these days.

Andrea Sanchez (03:19):

Well, four months ago I joined a clean energy company. I worked for NG North America. I also continue with my Spark Story business, which is more like a passion project now, which I focus on educating and coaching others to communicate the via telling their stories. So effective way of really connecting with others. That's what I've been up to.

Mike P. (03:42):

Well, this is awesome to have you here. And your voice is going to be so important as we talk about this topic today. And another person who I've had that same level of fun and experience with on a webinar and a podcast is Annemarie Fleming up in New York. Annemarie, welcome back to the show. How are you?

Annemarie Fleming (04:01):

Thank you, Mike. I enjoyed singing with you in the Big Apple. We booted out some great tunes and I got plenty of praise for my singing voice. So maybe they'll be [crosstalk 00:04:07].

Mike P. (04:09):

You do have a great voice.

Annemarie Fleming (04:12):

Oh, you're so fine.

Mike P. (04:12):

A great voice. And we sang New York songs, right?

Annemarie Fleming (04:13):

We did.

Mike P. (04:13):

We sang a little-

Annemarie Fleming (04:14):

All New York themed.

Mike P. (04:16):

Jay-Z and Beyonce. And we also did, of course-

Annemarie Fleming (04:16):

Frank Sinatra.

Mike P. (04:20):

Frank Sinatra. Start spreading the news. And I think you really kicked into high gear when we did a little Arthur's Theme by Christopher Cross. When you get caught between the moon and New York City, Annemarie. You want to give us a taste of that one or maybe Sailing by Christopher Cross?

Annemarie Fleming (04:38):

I love Sailing and I just came back from vacation. So I'll give a little rendition of Sailing.

Mike P. (04:42):

Let's hear it.

Annemarie Fleming (04:45):

Sailing, take me away to where I always wanted to be. I probably made up the lyrics there.

Mike P. (04:53):

That's okay. That's awesome. That was great. See, she does have a good voice folks. Such a refreshing change from what you usually hear from me, Maddie, right, on podcast and Workplace Innovator karaoke.

Madison Dujka (05:03):

Don't make me answer that.

Mike P. (05:06):

Well, the topic today, folks, is change management and communication in uncertain times. So just to set the stage, a year and a half ago, I had you both on, and it was in the context of the regular world we used to live in where change meant a new project initiative or a new plan to go from one headquarters to another, so move management was part of it. Or it was maybe just redesigning the space. IFMA went through a big corporate redesign several years ago that Andrea was a big part of, and setting up new open offices and activity-based working and things like that.

         Well, here we are forced into this incredible change and now living in a pandemic. So what's it like to be a change management thinker? And now here we are thrust into this incredible experiment, work from home and now trying to navigate the future where people have to cut out of their comfort zone, maybe return to offices and figure that all out. So Annemarie, I'm sure you have some thoughts on this. What comes to mind in this forced change environment we live in?

Annemarie Fleming (06:08):

It's a really interesting question. I have the, I guess, unique perspective of being married to somebody who never actually stopped working, but watching his company go through some iterations of everybody in the office, some people home. Now as of last week, everybody's back. And I really compare the experience to going through a trauma.

         When my son was one month old, I was involved in a head-on collision and the car was totaled. I was fine, the child was fine. But I got a rental car and for a month, it sat in the driveway because I didn't want to get back into a car. And I lived through September 11th in New York City. And I think it's very similar. We just have to, at some point, figure out how to navigate through the trauma and take baby steps to get back at it.

         And my husband, because of some health situations I have, did a lot of the food shopping. And I think about three weeks ago, I did my first foray into the supermarket. And it's just taking those baby steps, and seeing that you get through it and building up those courage muscles and carrying on.

Mike P. (07:11):

That's true. We're all on our own timeline, aren't we. Whether it was early on in the pandemic that you decided you were comfortable venturing out or just recently, it's an individual choice. There's no one size fits all. But the examples you gave there, Annemarie, around trauma and sudden change that happens, not a part of a plan to change, is exactly what I was looking for.

         And Andrea, you actually mentioned when we were talking about changes and change management, that it's almost like the stages of grief and grief counseling, as you're communicating with employees, or in that context, it was about employees and workplace change. But tell me how you see change management being similar to the stages of grief.

Andrea Sanchez (07:50):

Yes, that's a great comparison, and I often dive back into it, is just like the stages of grief, there's shock, there's denial, there's bargaining, there's acceptance eventually, and then moving on. But sometimes, just like the stages of grief, it's not linear. People jump into these stages in different parts, may regress, may go forward, may be fine one day. You may not realize that the next day you're totally not fine. And you're starting over with shock or anger. So I think it's definitely what people are going through now, except I think with change management during the COVID times, this new era, this new normal, I think change management got a tiny bit more personal because I believe it crossed the boundaries into our personal lives and forces us to get in better touch of ourselves and our strengths and our weaknesses and our vulnerabilities. Because we're so tied to our comfort zones, we're so tied to our routines, that we don't know how else to live.

         So it's not just about the organizational change now. It's about change of just your way of life as you know it. So if you have that going on, plus an organizational change, that's a lot to handle. So it's important to break it apart and really acknowledged that there's always a human behind the change first.

Mike P. (09:22):

I love that. And it's so good. And I have so many questions I could follow up with, but I'm going to resist. Madison, what are people wanting to know with these two incredible guest?

Madison Dujka (09:30):

Oh, we have so many questions already. I don't know how we're going to be able to get through all of these. Okay. So what are some of the key messages that you think we have to get right as people consider returning to work in the future?

Mike P. (09:44):

Let me start with Andrea first this time, because I know that you talked about, you're not in an office right now, right, you're working from home right.

Andrea Sanchez (09:51):

Correct.

Mike P. (09:51):

Has your organization, or do you have any thoughts about this question about preparing people mentally to return to offices?

Andrea Sanchez (09:51):

Oh yeah.

Mike P. (09:57):

And we already kind of covered some of the practical protocols and stuff, but really from a change management and communication perspective especially.

Andrea Sanchez (10:04):

Definitely going through that right now, it's a great and exciting time to be in change management, that's for sure. I think one thing throughout the whole thing is to be transparent and be authentic. And going back to what I said earlier is remembering there's a human first behind your communication. So there's emotions tied to that human, there's fear, there's my health. I'm scared to go back. What if I'm going to contract this COVID? Or my kid is going to start school soon and I have to have dependent care. How am I going to do my work?

         So get in front of all the things that keep them up at night first, and then frame your messaging so it's relatable to them, so you connect to them in that way. But first and foremost, please be transparent and communicate often. If you don't have any news, say you don't have any news. If there's something that you're running low on or there's something that happened, an incident in your company, or there's a case that was reported, let them know. It's worse if they find out through the grapevine and then your trust is completely gone. So that's what I have seen and what I have learned and what I recommend.

Mike P. (11:13):

Transparency, vulnerability, empathy, all great things to keep in mind as a leader in the workplace today. Annemarie, your thoughts?

Annemarie Fleming (11:21):

Well, I think it's important to communicate just the process. What's the process for coming in? What's the process for checking temperatures? What are the cleaning protocols? How has the office changed? What kind of barriers have been put up? And I was sharing with Mike earlier that one of the biggest challenges of this COVID situation is that the information that we're getting and the guidance that we're getting from official federal agencies like the CDC is also changing. So it makes it very difficult for change managers because our message is not static. It's very fluid. And I have one former client who's made the decision that nobody has to come back to the office until they're comfortable. And I think having that kind of flexibility in thinking to support people to come through their own personal change journey, like Andrea had alluded to, I think is really brilliant.

Mike P. (12:13):

Excellent. There's so much there that we could continue on. And it reminds me of these quotes that we had prepared to kind of focus our thoughts about some of the real challenges that we as people face. And Maddie, you had a great quote from Stephen Covey you wanted to share. Why don't you go ahead and share this with us?

Madison Dujka (12:31):

"It's not what happens to us, but our response to what happens to us that hurts us."

Mike P. (12:36):

I thought this was good. And obviously Covey's got a lot of great advice, but we have to make decisions. What do we do next? And we can often make bad decisions during a crisis. Annemarie.

Annemarie Fleming (12:48):

I think it's really interesting. I think that having transparent communication between employees and their management is really important. And having the courage to speak up and say, "I feel uncomfortable coming back to the office. Is there any way that I can continue to work from home?" Or if you've got a situation at home where somebody in your household is immune compromised, to find ways to communicate that and make accommodations. It shouldn't be hard and fast. This should be a discussion, a negotiation. And I would encourage both leadership as well as employees to have the courage to speak up and express what their needs are.

Mike P. (13:23):

That's excellent. If you're a leader making decisions about when to reopen or how to reopen or what that new workplace of the future is going to look like, certainly make sure we're getting everybody's opinion and not make decisions that make things worse as opposed to better. And Andrea, I have a quote that I want to share that you're very fond of, as I am. It's Seth Godin, of course, one of our favorite marketing gurus. He, along with Simon Sinek and Start With Why. I know you and I have a lot of philosophical connection here, but this quote from Seth is, "How do I dance with the fear? Fear is not the enemy. Paralysis is the enemy." So again, alluding to those human factors and the fact that many of us are literally afraid of the virus, but also when we talk about moving through and getting to this next stage of returning to office, how do we face our fears and not be paralyzed by them?

Andrea Sanchez (14:15):

Wow. That's a great question. I'd like it to know that too.

Mike P. (14:19):

I didn't warn you. See, I told you this is a three-part chat. I didn't give you time to prepare. I love to hear your gut reaction to these things.

Andrea Sanchez (14:26):

First of all, I love that quote, but what's most fearful of that quote for me is the word dance rather than fear. It's like, hope you don't make us dance. So that's great.

Mike P. (14:37):

Talking later, but no dancing.

Andrea Sanchez (14:39):

So how do I dance with fear? I think with everything and going to the first quote as well, and with this one, it's just about mindset. It's all about mindset. It's how you, whether it's a card that you're dealt in a game or a situation that falls in your lap or COVID or whatever it is, you always have the power to decide what you want to think. So be careful where you get your information. Be careful who you hang out with. And then just catch yourself. Self-awareness is key.

         So when you see this quote, do you automatically feel fear or do you automatically get stressed? Ask yourself why? It's just a quote. And how do you define fear? Fear, if you really think about it, is a defense mechanism, because maybe we're not aware of how to do certain things or maybe because we don't have the information to do certain things. So our mind fills in the blanks and assumes the worst.

Mike P. (15:35):

Yes.

Andrea Sanchez (15:35):

More often than not. So fear is not the enemy. I think it's just an opportunity to be curious, to ask why, and to just repurpose your mind to think that, fear, let me redefine that word in my mind and think it's a challenge for me to dare to realize what is really underlying the fear and go for it.

Mike P. (15:58):

That's so good. And this is so relevant because it's something I've talked about in my speeches at IFMA and other organizations where I've had the opportunity, the privilege to speak to audiences. I've always talked about the human side and the fear side of things, and obviously, talking about change management. It's been expressed on my podcast time and time again by many guests, this idea that change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they may have currently and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up. So that quote, certainly pre-pandemic in context, was one that applied to moves, and to changes, and the new technology and adapting new technology. All those things that as workplace leaders we talk about all the time. And I'm trying to think about how to apply that quote to this current situation. Annemarie, can you help me?

Annemarie Fleming (16:48):

I mean, I think that what I've observed is that there seems to be a fault line between kind of somebody's core personality and whether they're comfortable with remote working versus whether they want to be back in offices. So our more introverted colleagues are happy as clams in shells, and they would be happy never to go back to the office. And those of us who draw energy from other people, being on a Zoom meeting just does not make up for that interpersonal interaction.

         So I think, again, it comes down to understanding kind of where people are at and helping them sort of progress through. If it's necessary for people to be back for the purpose to serve the needs of the business, then we have to draw our clam inhabiting introverts back into the workplace. And for those of us who are extroverts, we're very happy to do so.

         It's just, I think when we go back to the concept of communication and giving people confidence that the leadership has thought through all the details, whether it's putting in place HEPA filters to improve the air, whether there is a standard of cleaning, a standard of communication if there's a COVID case. If you put in place the framework for how you're communicating the changes as they're coming up, to the people, you'll rise through level of confidence and make it easier for them to make that change to come back.

Mike P. (18:06):

Don't let the emptiness be filled with negativity. Proactively share all those things. And to your point, Andrea, you said, I remember on your webinar, that putting together communication around change management is down to the individual sometimes. You're putting together a change management program for each and every employee because so many different personalities exist, right?

Andrea Sanchez (18:25):

That's correct. I think that's the biggest assumption that people make is you need one change management plan and it's a one size fits all. But then you have everyone comes with their own story, their own baggage, their own fears, their own strengths. So you have to take it even a deeper level. And if you're really going to do it right, take the time to know how your employees feel and think. And sometimes even have those one-on-ones. Not everyone's going to change. Everyone has the option, the power, to decide whether they have a desire to change. You can only try your best.

         Even the most amazing change management plans, change management consultants, etc., may not be successful in changing everybody. And that's okay. But I think part of the change management also is we're talking about a lot about communications and I don't want to underestimate that listening is a huge component of communication. So really opening up and having feedback channels at all times. Sometimes people are fearful and they say things and they just need to express and let it out. And then they're fine. So I think, in my experience, that's important to always, always have as part of your plan.

Mike P. (19:40):

There you have it folks. Annemarie Fleming and Andrea Sanchez, both with some great insight and practical advice around change management and communication during these pandemic times. Always a pleasure having them on this podcast. And if you want to see the entire one-hour conversation, we had lots of fun with the poll questions and the escape from reality music and TV recommendations. I really recommend you check out the video recording. It's always better to see our faces, right? So check the show notes or head over to iofficecorp.com and search the resources page for this and all past live stream and webinar recordings.

         And if you found value in this conversation, please share it with a friend or a colleague. We always appreciate that. And we thank you for listening each and every week, as we gather here to encourage and inspire each other to be a workplace innovator. Peace out.

         You've been listening to the Workplace Innovator podcast. I hope you found this discussion beneficial as we work together to build partnerships that lead to innovative workplace solutions. For more information about how iOFFICE can help you create an employee-centric workspace by delivering digital technology that enhances the employee experience, visit iofficecorp.com.