Returning to work – lessons learned from Hong Kong
22nd June 2020
Many countries across the world are beginning to ease lockdown restrictions during the Covid-19 pandemic, allowing staff to return to work.
In Hong Kong, MovePlan has already been supporting businesses to return to work. There, exposure and spread of the virus was identified and controlled early, which limited high rates of infection and death. This has allowed people to return to some sort of normality sooner than other places, such as the UK and the US, where the majority of people are still working from home.
Here we look at how businesses in Hong Kong have adapted, and share their approach to return to work and some of the lessons learned.
Adapting to a ‘new normal’
It is a phrase which seems to be used frequently: adjusting to a ‘new normal’ is the reality faced by most people returning to work. Businesses need to communicate with staff that when the time comes to go back to the office, things will be different. Managing employees’ expectations before they come back will be important to ensure they know what to expect and how to behave.
Staff in Hong Kong are getting used to new measures such as wearing masks, increased hygiene regimes, temperature checks when entering an office, following physical distancing rules and signing declaration forms. This is often the responsibility of real estate, facilities or sometimes HR.
No one model fits all
We have worked with several clients in Hong Kong to support them to return staff to work. However, we have seen completely different approaches. No one model will fit all businesses, and this is important to consider. What works for one business, might not be appropriate for another. There are various considerations that need to be taken into account, such as the available space, type of work carried out, the workforce, and corporate culture.
One client implemented a plan to split the workforce into a team A and team B. There simply wasn’t enough space to accommodate the entire workforce while maintaining a safe physical distance. Instead, the teams use the space at separate times, with team A coming in one week and team B the next, allowing everyone time in the office safely.
One client decided to return 20 per cent of the workforce initially, then increase gradually whilst continuously monitoring and reviewing how it was working. Another has allowed staff to work flexibly to avoid travelling to work during the rush hour. Staff are able to start and finish work earlier or later so they can travel to their place of work and limit the number of people they come in contact with during their commute.
Who should return first?
We have seen businesses in Hong Kong consider various approaches when deciding who should return first. You might want to put the question out to staff to ask who wants to come back to the office. There could be people working from home who find this difficult, who are keen to come in and have human contact. There could be others who are terrified, and would rather wait for colleagues to go before them and try it out first.
Clients or operational priorities may be deciding factors on which departments need to be present in the office first.
The businesses in Hong Kong which are successfully managing the return to work are those who are listening to staff and their needs. Some staff might not feel comfortable travelling to or working in an office yet, so it’s important to respect this and make arrangements for them to continue remote working.
Providing clear communication to staff is important to ensure they understand what the return to work will look like and what is expected of them when they are in the workplace.
We have seen the most successful communication coming from the leadership team, given in a reassuring, clear and succinct way. It should also be proactive rather than reactive. For example, how to manage a suspected infection of a member of staff. It is important to keep staff fully informed about the situation to prevent rumours spreading, which could cause fear and unease. Leaders should reassure staff that as soon as they have any further information, it will be shared.
Whatever measures you decide to put in place to return staff to work, adjusting to a new normal will be a challenge for everyone. Planning now, and being prepared to be flexible, will help your strategy to be implemented smoothly.