My favourite story illustrating why change management is both necessary and important can be traced back to one of my first experiences of presenting a new office design to a client.

Paul Dare

Head of Design

13th Sep 2016

Something occurred in our successful pitch presentation that I admit was a bit of a surprise but a welcome consideration and opportunity; addressing a resistance to change in office design and build. In this instance, a staff member approached us with a serious expression, questioning the whereabouts of his tuna. He explained that every Monday he brings in a week's supply of tuna and wondered if there would be room nearby for him to store it.

Resistance to change can take many forms. Active resistance can include arguing, undermining, being openly critical and sabotaging change efforts. Far harder to pinpoint is passive resistance. Agreeing verbally, but not following through, withholding support or information, procrastinating and failing to aid in the help process (Hultman, 1995). So why, do people resist change?

Cally Yard office workspace design natural light

Cally Yard workspace design featuring natural light.

Any one of the above could be the source of resistance when trying to implement change. However, all is not lost, there are proactive strategies designed to counteract resistance. Adopting a change management approach that focuses on participation, reducing uncertainty and educating staff about the new ways of working is one we have found to be successful.

A bespoke timber teapoint

A bespoke timber teapoint in London office.


Staff participation has proven to be highly effective, as demonstrated by Coch and French (1948) study on a garment factory. When comparing two groups of workers undergoing a change in their work processes. The first group was merely informed about the change and given instructions, resulting in a significant drop in output, ongoing low productivity, hostility towards management, intentional production restrictions, and a 17% quit rate within 40 days.

In contrast, the second group experienced a different approach. They were actively involved in designing the changes, which initially caused a slight decrease in output. However, their productivity quickly rebounded and surpassed previous levels. Notably, there was no hostility or employee attrition observed in this group.

This study emphasises the benefits of staff participation in change initiatives. However, it is important to strike a balance as excessive participation can hinder the progress of change projects, potentially resulting in undesirable outcomes. To address this, Morgan Lovell recommends incorporating choice into the change process. This can be achieved by establishing guidelines for space utilisation or allowing teams to personalise their designated areas. By doing so, the overall change is not impeded while empowering staff with a sense of control over the process.


First and foremost, create a ‘change’ team with a lead sponsor. Mitigating uncertainty from the beginning requires leadership to be fully behind the message. Staff look to leadership for direction and if they are not seen to be on board, change won’t stick. The team should involve key representatives from HR, facilities management, IT and influential people within your organisation who will be vocal and supportive of the change.


Once an overall strategy and direction are agreed, such as moving to desk-sharing, it is important to communicate this in a consistent and strong way. Key is getting across the message that change is necessary, and providing the context for this (i.e. rising real estate costs, business growth). This coupled with a strong communication plan ensures that people are clear about their role, the project timeline, anticipated impact(s) and what is expected of them. Have a key contact as a go-to and prepare for the influx of questions by creating an FAQ page on the company Intranet.


At Morgan Lovell, we place great importance on addressing practical concerns when we talk about the ability to choose your workspace. But what does this really mean? How do you actually switch workstations? Where do you go on your first day? And who can you reach out to if you can't find a locker?

In the context of an office refurbishment, we understand the significance of providing tangible solutions. We often recommend having furniture samples accessible beforehand, allowing staff to preview and familiarise themselves with the upcoming changes. By addressing these practical concerns, we effectively alleviate uncertainty and alleviate fears about the future. Additionally, this approach reinforces the message that change is underway and assures employees that their needs are being taken into consideration.

Royal Navy open plan office ideas

Royal Navy open plan office with lockers.

Recognise the loss

However much we frame it there will always be some loss with change. In the context of an office redesign, this could range from ownership of your desk to the loss of your coveted tuna shelf. Lawrence (1969) suggested that it isn’t the technical change that people are resistant to – it’s the social change that goes along with it. It’s potentially not the fact that they have to move desks.

It’s the fact that they normally sit next to Fred, who always helps them think of the right word, or across from Jenny, who is an excel whiz. That’s why it’s important to point out what individuals are gaining when they are blinded by the “loss”. You might be losing “your” desk, but you’re gaining a new lunch spot to socialise. You might not always sit next to your office pal, but you might get to know someone in another team better.

Change management is ongoing, and not everyone will adjust. Often we cannot tell what is going on in someone’s personal life, whether they have a lot of change happening or if it will affect other areas of their life. And yes sometimes, the threat is real. Honesty and transparency are valued in the workplace – don’t try to hide it.

As for tuna-man, we assured him there would still be tea-points, there would still be fridges, and in addition to all this, there would be a lovely new canteen to eat it. We do understand: it’s the little things that make the difference.