In an ideal world, organisational change management is planned – for example, the introduction of a new HR system, the opening of a new branch or adopting new technologies.
However, in business, we are regularly faced with unexpected change. Cutting costs after an unexpected drop in oil price, replacing a senior manager after a sudden departure, or government regulations being updated. In these instances, you typically have space and time to adapt. Until now.
No organisation expects or is fully prepared to transform their entire operational model in a few short weeks. That requires some serious organisational change management.
International School Aberdeen (ISA) is no different.
The school came back from the winter holiday with no one but its science teachers having heard of coronavirus. Nobody would have imagined for one second that the spring break would begin as a virtual school offering online care and instruction.
When you hear the word “virtual”, you automatically think of technology or working online. Both have been of huge importance during a rapidly evolving global pandemic.
Like the majority of businesses, face-to-face interaction is crucial for a school. So, let’s introduce Google Meet to teach online – all that is required is a computer that works and everyone knowing how to operate the software. Sounds simple.
Wrong. The word “virtual” represents so much more. A complete change in cultural interactions.
Nick Little, ISA head of school, recalls ISA’s first day as a virtual school: “At the end of our first day, I was chatting – online of course – with a grade three teacher who told me about a child who had asked through the video chat if he could go to the toilet. We both laughed, ‘How sweet!’ But of course, why wouldn’t an eight-year-old ask that, having spent the last four years learning that during the school day their movements, and more particularly their physical needs, are regulated by the teacher. The rules of virtual space may be different, but habits are ingrained.”
Class discussion is a further example of changing cultural interactions and how we can learn from new ways of working.
In a real classroom environment, students put up their hand and wait for the teacher to respond. Online this is awkward, but you still have to find a way to prevent everyone talking over each other.
Google Hangouts was a good solution to this challenge as it combines video and chat functionality. Initially teachers asked students to type in “hands-up” and then, just like in class, they choose one to speak.
It was very quickly realised that students could type in answers and thoughts directly and simultaneously and not need to put their hands up. This led to some students wanting to speak and explain themselves more fully, while others were content that their ideas had been expressed without them having to occupy centre stage.
Quite unexpectedly, this combination of audio-visual and text allowed for a far greater range of participation and engagement that is often supressed in a real classroom environment.
The turning point and main lesson during the process of changing cultural interactions was a realisation that “this is how you effectively manage online discussions”. As soon as a business understands this, the transformation will become less challenging.
For the energy sector, much of these systems and tools are already in place to support remote working and technology platforms to improve operational performance have been used for a long time. But the key to success will be how effectively these organisations adapt to the new circumstances.
The implementation of software for interaction is a top down decision but, in reality, it is the users interacting and communicating that will determine success.
For ISA, the senior management and community of practitioners selected the technology, set the basic rules around dress, language and environment but, very quickly, the children, the users, were the ones who paved the way.
The sudden shift from actual to virtual has brought into focus some of the best features of an international education. The preparation for a rapidly changing world, not just learning but thinking about how to learn, collaborating and connecting. This time though, it is the teachers who have had to practise what they preach.
A new way of working has been explored for everyone and every sector. There has been a shift from email to a greater use of themed chat rooms allowing teams to share good practice. The unexpected happens in this instance as it isn’t always the expert or the manager who has the answer. It just be the colleague who is one step ahead on a particular issue.