Preparing for a Return to the Workplace

As businesses reopen the workplace, they must ensure the continued health, well-being, and support for their employees. CY Chan, chief talent and purpose officer at Hong Kong Broadband Network, shares how his organization made the transition.

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.

As a leader, it's not about working from home, it's about leading from home.

How are you using Workday to meet changing business needs?

When we implemented Workday, our goal was to make sure that we had a single source of truth. We didn’t want a lot of systems and data sources. We wanted to simplify things, speed up processes, and increase transparency. So, as leaders, we’ll now have access to much more data than before in Workday. 

From an HR perspective, we want our leaders to be able to source our people when they have new initiatives or projects. As a next step, we’re working to make sure we update our employees’ certificates and skills in Workday to help create that ability for leaders. 

Since we’ve returned to the office, we’ve gotten 100% of our people logged in and using Workday within the first month, which is an amazing achievement. We also installed Workday on our field workers’ phones so they can access it from anywhere. 

What advice would you give other HR leaders who are currently planning and preparing for the return to the workplace?

Try to look at what has evolved in your organization. It's important to remember that the office is not going to look like it did before the pandemic. If your workforce has learned new skills or changed their working habits due to remote work, encourage them to find ways to incorporate them into the office setting. 

Leaders must ask themselves questions like, "How are we going to set goals? How are we going to evaluate performance? Are we still focusing on the number of hours in the office or deliverables and quality?" They are simple questions, but they will allow you to keep up with the new normal and evolve your operating models as needed. 

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