As businesses in parts of the world are determining how and when to reopen their office doors, HR leaders are focused on helping employees transition from working remotely to developing more flexible work arrangements. In order to ensure a successful transition, organizations must implement new employee experience and well-being strategies for the returning workers.
I recently chatted with CY Chan, co-owner and chief talent and purpose officer at HKBN, about how his company enabled an effective return experience and support model for employees as they come back to the office. Excerpts from our conversation are below.
What were some of the unexpected challenges that you faced when you started re-opening your offices?
We didn’t see any huge challenges because Hong Kong citizens are highly aware of personal hygiene. Our people are just happy to be back and we’ve actually seen more energy after reopening. Because of COVID-19, we worked from home from late January until early May and quickly adapted to the new way of working at home and how we use technology. To maintain productivity, our employees were empowered with remote access capabilities to ensure workflow continuity via virtual meetings and secure access to company systems during the pandemic.
As we returned to the workplace, the thing I paid attention to is, "Will people fall back to their old normal?" I kept telling the team that we should not waste the effort to change the new way of doing things. Before the pandemic, we asked our talent to work the “four plus one” arrangement, which is four days in the office and one day at home. Then in February, it's zero plus five, so five days at home. When we went back into the office, I didn't want all of us to just come back to five plus zero. We’re doing three plus two, and want to have better flow in the office so we can have more structure and set up dedicated places for discussion and collaboration.
For some of our frontline workers like our technicians, they didn’t get to work from home at all. We had to make some immediate adjustments like providing masks, protective clothing, and hand sanitizers so they could continue working on-site. We also have a network operating center that is core to our operations and that office remained open during the pandemic as well. For our employees who were working from home, we created new guidelines for their return to the office, like wearing masks and social distancing. We’re also looking to install Internet of Things (IoT) devices at the entrances of the office to help with facial and temperature detection.
How are you adapting to be more sustainable for virtual and team-based working?
As a leader, it's not about working from home, it's about leading from home. At HKBN, we embrace empowerment and we require our leaders to empower their teams. We don’t want them to micromanage or approve every single process or idea. We let our talent do a task or project on their own and if they succeed, we praise them. If they fail, we give them guidance. We’ve been operating this way for years now.
Because of this way of doing things, we create strong trust between our leaders and team members. I think this approach is quite sustainable, whether you're working from home or you're in the office. As a leader, you're not focused on how much time your team is spending in the office or at home. Instead you’re focused on the deliverables.