The very fabric of how the world usually works is being put to the test. The business world and our social life are spinning as the World Health Organization raised its risk assessment of the coronavirus to “very high”, alerting all of wide-spread risk and global impacts. And at press time, things are not exactly looking up. The number of COVID-19 confirmed cases globally has exceeded 90,000, death toll has risen over 3,000, and 60 countries have reported confirmed infection cases. Closer to home, Hong Kong has 100 confirmed infections and, sadly, lost two lives, as of March 2.
As the outbreak continues, people movement inevitably slows down. Even as the HKSAR government restarted parts of its civil service, a portion of Hong Kong’s workforce continues to work from home whilst many companies scramble to make it really work. A lot of ink has been spilt on how to structure remote work-life and the best work-from-home rules of thumb. But this is not what this article is about. I am advocating companies, leaders and line managers to be more “human”.
In times of any sort of worldwide crisis, your employees are emotionally shaken if not distraught. They look up to their leaders for guidance and it calls for authentic understanding. When you assign tasks, monitor progress and find quick fixes when things fall through, take note of what your employees are grappling with. They worry about their own health, parents and children whilst they adapt to these new circumstances. Help them cope. Be understanding.
Communicate both ways
This is the worst time to be top-down in communicating with staff. Listen to your staff’s concerns. Be candid when you appreciate them, be specific of what you expect them to deliver, set a reasonable timeline, share with them your goals, but be prepared to readjust if realities do not agree.
No one has been schooled or trained to function as effectively as they are working from home. There is a difference in setting, which calls for a change in mindset, work habits and tools. Adapting is not that easy for all. Thus, employers should appreciate that their teams are handling this the best they can. Trust them and give them room to perform at their best.
Whilst we are all quite adept at maintaining constant communication through emails, messaging, conference calls and shared materials, there are enterprise technologies that enable companies to better manage work processes, ensure employee experience and safety and foster remote collaboration. Leverage these to innovate and make remote work-life work.
Digital communication enables teams to put their heads together digitally. It removes physical contact, and most of the time, it works. But technologies intrinsically hamper immediacy and sometimes, latency might cause frustration. This calls for patience when things do not work as fast or immediate as in an office environment.
Set realistic goals
Companies exist to make profits. Granted. But under these sluggish circumstances, KPIs might need to be recalibrated to reflect business realities. Sometimes, high margins, bonuses and profits might have to take a back seat when life throws us all a curveball.
Humans are funny animals. Our moods and sentiments fundamentally influence how we function as a workforce. If companies and leaders demonstrate how they genuinely care about their employees, they might boost morale, lessen resistance to adapt and pave the way for promising results. Be positive in mind and in practice with your teams, they might have some pleasant surprises in store for you.
The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Hongkong Business. The author was not remunerated for this article.
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Benson Chao is Director of Corporate Communications at SAP Hong Kong. For over two decades, he has advised and spearheaded corporations from diverse industries including conglomerate, printed media, TV broadcaster, themed park and cruise liner, to communicate coherent and engaging narratives with external and internal audiences. He has led regional and local teams to orchestrate cross-functional campaigns, guided decision-makers and stakeholders to connect the dots on communications issues within the boarder framework of business operations.