How HK Is Coping With COVID-19

Photo credit: iStockphoto/Chainarong Prasertthai

COVID-19 caught a lot of companies off guard.

While digital innovation eased the pain, CHROs and HR leaders are hard pressed to empower a remote workforce that is facing increasing restrictions and health-related anxiety.

A Mercer study, however, showed that Hong Kong companies responded fast, despite the coronavirus rearing its ugly head during the Chinese New Year holidays.

The Coronavirus Response Survey was conducted in early February, with over 300 companies taking part. The survey includes a breakdown of the findings by industry, including 128 participants with frontline employees.

It showed that 88% of participants are now working from home. Companies are also postponing nonessential travel, requiring self-quarantine of staff who have traveled to Mainland China, and providing sanitizers and masks in the workplace.

Social unrest link

The 2019 social disruptions helped indirectly. It saw many companies exploring flexi-work solutions throughout the second half of last year.

When COVID-19 struck, these companies made flexi-work — in particular, working from home — a priority.

While 4 in 5 employees are working from home, only one in five (24%) made it mandatory companywide. Nearly half (44%) “rely on discretionary arrangements determined by direct managers or department heads,” says the survey report.

The idea of making work-from-home discretionary is it allows employees to choose where they want to work—from home or at the office. It adds additional responsibilities on companies to make their facilities operational and safe.

Taming confusion with information

Most companies (68%) saw themselves as “early followers” who used external information, including government guidelines, in formulating their response, resulting in less confusion for their employees.

The survey also found that the organizational maturity and infrastructure availability played a huge role in how these decisions were made.

About half of survey respondents believed that regular management committee members should make these decisions. Only 27% relied on decisions made by their business continuity teams, with consumer goods, energy and insurance industries leading the way.

For those with frontline employees, only 19% said that they are likely to reduce individual, team and/or department targets. At the moment, 54% remain highly uncertain. The percentage fluctuates according to industry with manufacturing most likely to keep the same targets.

Beyond being prepared

Mercer notes that companies need to consider the following issues for broader critical success. These include:

  1. Leadership
    Change management can help companies to weather uncertainties and a changing situation. Leadership teams need to move away from process-driven styles to outcome-driven, while encouraging employees to have the self-discipline for regular reporting to line managers and seeking guidance.
  2. Policies and infrastructure
    If companies have not developed policies on flexi work arrangements, it is time to do so now. Meanwhile, the IT infrastructure needs to be ready to support and ensure business continuity. Having a clear job structure and expectation can help employees to stay focused.
  3. Employee experience
    Employees need to be at the heart of any workplace initiatives. These include but are not limited to flexi-work arrangement, facilitating hygiene equipment, monetary allowances and benefits, etc. These would help HR teams to engage their workforce and remain productive, while keeping your top talents during turbulent times.

Photo credit: iStockphoto/Chainarong Prasertthai