Coronavirus Update: HK Companies Take Matters into Own Hands

Photo credit: iStockphoto/Marcos Silva

The Asia Pacific is in crisis management mode. Governments are trying to stem the spread of the Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) while managing resident fears.

While mixed messages from governments have been received with resistance and agitated more fear, Hong Kong companies seemed to be more prepared. Most are not waiting for the government and taking pre-emptive measures that are helping to keep employees where they should be – at home.

An ongoing poll survey by Mercer showed that HK companies are getting better at addressing contingencies. Entitled “Arrangements and Resources for Colleagues under Coronavirus,” it showed that Hong Kong companies and their HR leaders are taking measures faster than Government actions and announcements.

The polls showed that more than 80% of respondents have already made arrangements for employees to work from home. The measures limit contact, contain the virus spread, and reduce the impact on the health of employees and their family health.

However, Mercer noted that what a company actually does can vary due to several factors. These include employee demographics, company policies, and IT infrastructure. Yet, the fact that these contingencies were being rolled out at all highlighted the level of preparedness.

According to Mercer, part of the reason is that many of these companies started looking into flexi work solutions in mid-2019, when the social unrest caused disruptions at the workplace and people's lives. "The coronavirus situation has leap-frogged a lot of Hong Kong companies in terms of practicing flexi work, in particular WFH, on a bigger scale and more sustained basis. We at Mercer were planning on doing a pulse survey anyway but accelerated it due to the overwhelming requests from clients," says Mercer.

But there are limits to how widely these measures are implemented. While four in five respondents said that they are now working from home, only around 25% admitted that these measures are companywide.

The type of industry plays a huge role (e.g., manufacturing vs. finance). It also highlights that companies are facing different levels of risks when it comes to the epidemic. HR leaders will also need to balance employee health and safety with the needs of the company.

In addition to the enabling building blocks such as technology and policies, Mercer also sees a variance in how these decisions are being made based on each organization’s maturity and level of infrastructure. In the current environment, nearly half of the companies rely on the management to make the final call.

Mercer also advised that while policy and IT infrastructure are key to enabling flexible work arrangements, there are broader critical success factors related to change management. These include leadership buy-in and championing; line managers changing their management style and approach to outcome-driven rather than process-driven; employee having the self-discipline to regularly report to line managers about their progress and seek guidance.

In any epidemic, timing is everything. How fast you react and contain the virus spread can directly impact on the health of the employees. As Mercer noted, it is “a tricky decision” to act as a pioneer or a late follower.

Here, nearly half of the Hong Kong companies seem to be proactive. Forty percent said that they made arrangements before the government press release. This includes ensuring the right internal messages and deploying the right technologies for workforce communications.

The poll survey is still ongoing. To find out what most companies are doing, join the study here.  We will also highlight the complete results from Mercer once the results are analyzed.

While the results point to a high level of preparedness and quick action, it will be interesting to see how companies fare if the virus continues its rampage, or how HR leaders will roll back these measures when the virus burns out but the threat still looms.

Stay tuned!

Photo credit: iStockphoto/Marcos Silva