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The sudden onset and ongoing impact of COVID-19 in the first half of 2020 has disrupted many businesses and has been a test for the human resources department. The good news is HR has (mostly) passed the test. A total of 59% of respondents in Hong Kong are satisfied with how their employers responded to the pandemic, with only 7% calling the overall experience "very unsatisfying", according to recent research surveying 1045 workers in Hong Kong between April and May.

How employers in Hong Kong handle COVID-19 

A total of 89% of respondents stated that their employers have made flexible working and remote working arrangements in response to the pandemic. Approximately one in three employees was given instructions from their company on the days they can work in the office and/or got to choose the days they want to work in the office. About one in eight said the decision of telecommuting lay with their managers.

A total of 23% said that their companies have made working from home a compulsory measure. 

Even though COVID-19 is a respiratory disease that is transmissible through close contact, 15% said that their employers made no changes to their workforce arrangements.

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“When employers implement work-from-home policies to protect their staff from the pandemic, they should also ensure that the employees can receive adequate technology and team support from home. In an ideal situation, employees should not need to troubleshoot technical issues on their own at home. Neither should they feel alone or unsupported by their team members when working remotely. With the help of technology, managers can play a more active role in tracking their employees’ progress and step in to provide counsel and support to those who need it,” said Natellie Sun, managing director of Search and Selection across Greater China at Randstad.

In further findings, half of respondents said that their employers have not announced or implemented any cost-cutting measures to mitigate losses in response to the current economic outlook. 

As for the other half, 12% said that their companies have placed workers on unpaid leave, 11% had implemented a salary freeze this year and 10% have announced salary cuts and a bonus freeze.

Employees' expectation for employers

When asked what a good employer should do during a pandemic, 53% expect their employers to give regular business updates and reassure them of their employment status, 52% want a mandatory work-from-home arrangement until there is no more community spread. A total of 43% wishes for better flexibility for employees living with children and the elderly.

Technology plays a vital role in making the work-from-home arrangements go smoothly. With regards to remote working, the most popular way to connect with colleagues is through video conferencing tools (76%), messaging services (73%) and internal social media platforms (18%). However, 5% do not have access to technology tools to collaborate with their teammates when working remotely and 30% said that they do not have adequate technical support when not in the office.

A total of 42% hope the employers can provide adequate support to enable remote working if similar situation arises again. 

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“People tend to panic and make impulsive or irrational decisions during a crisis. While it is a great platform to inform the public, social media has also exacerbated issues around misinformation and misinterpretation of facts around COVID-19. To help calm people down, especially employees who are worried about their jobs and incomes, it's necessary for employers to give regular updates and be transparent about how the pandemic has impacted the business and what it would mean for the company. When an employer is proactive and honest, it helps build trust between them and their employees, which result in a more engaged and loyal workforce,” Sun said.