Business as Usual When Business Isn’t Usual

By: Emily Strain, RID, LEED AP

In a time of uncertainty, how can leaders best equip employees to handle change? People are avoiding the workplace in record numbers and working remotely, drastically altering how we collaborate, innovate, and produce our best work.

For many organizations, working from home en masse enters uncharted territory and can be challenging to navigate. Corgan's Workplace Strategy team breaks down the best practices for change management and how to apply them in the rapidly changing world we are experiencing during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Lead with Empathy

There is a reason why this is first on our list. With any workplace change, it's essential to meet people where they are. Not only are people concerned about their jobs, but they are also worried about taking care of their families, supporting their communities, stabilizing their finances, and staying healthy. As a leader, it is crucial to remember how you respond to these uncertain times isn't necessarily the case for others. Now is the time to put yourself in the shoes of your employees. When the crisis does end, employees will remember the empathy shown from employers as they navigated this difficult period.


Support Onsite Employees

How can you best support employees who are not able to work remotely? First and foremost, expressing appreciation reminds employees of their value to the organization. Clear communication about safety precautions, new processes, and social distancing are key. Consider ideas such as personal communications from senior leadership, flex hours to stagger team members, or bringing in boxed lunches -- this is not the time for a buffet or team lunches!


Communicate Concisely

With any significant change, we recommend distributing information through consistent channels. Communications should seek not only to inform but to explain the why behind the decisions made. Providing a rationale for decisions increases employee buy-in and creates a transparent environment. It's important that employees not only read but also fully digest the information they are receiving. We recommend keeping email regarding critical COVID-19 communication concise and attaching an FAQ with more information for those who want it. If possible, use an intranet site to house all prior communications for easy reference.


Keep Employees Engaged

Working from home is the quickest way for employees to become disengaged. Moving to all digital collaboration can be a difficult change for some, as there is no perfect substitute for face-to-face interaction. In addition to written communication, a way to keep employees engaged is to use webcams for meetings, conference calls, or check-ins to encourage a sense of normalcy in their day. Transitioning any key events or sessions within the organization to be executed in a digital format could help keep routines for the teams. Fostering a sense of online community for your employees could help keep them connected and reminded of the bigger picture at this time.


Empower Teams

As a leader in a time of change, it's vital to encourage others to solve problems. At Corgan, we are adapting our design thinking workshops (which we call visioning) to be 100% digital. With the goal of understanding leadership vision and goals, these highly interactive sessions work best in person, allowing us to fully understand participant dynamics. Still, we must remain agile in this climate. So our Workplace Strategy team is currently reimagining our user engagement process and pivoting to serve our clients best. By empowering organizations to innovate together, it creates a shared sense of purpose, uniting us in a time of social distancing. And, who knows? By challenging our standard practice, we may uncover a more efficient way of working as a team and producing our best work.

Emily Strain, RID, LEED AP, is a Vice President and the Director of Workplace Strategy in Corgan's interiors studio in Dallas, Texas. Contact Emily at

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