Working from Home is the key to combatting COVID-19 according to a new survey by KOS International

26 Mar 16:00 by Winnie Choi

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  • Nearly three quarters of companies polled are allowing employees to work from home as part of their business continuity strategy

  • The majority plan to continue the WFH concept after the outbreak is over


Coming hard on the heels of six months of disruptive social unrest, the COVID-19 outbreak is having a devastating impact on Hong Kong’s economy. However, the street protests may have had a hidden silver lining. They prompted many businesses to roll out or expand “Work from Home” (WFH) programmes, which are now playing a critical role in keeping employees safe, protecting customers, and enabling companies to continue operating as the world faces a potential pandemic.

According to a new survey by HR solutions provider, KOS International, the technology that allows people to work from home (WFH) could be the key to helping Hong Kong businesses ride out the COVID-19 outbreak. Nearly three quarters (72.9%) of companies surveyed are allowing employees to work from home. It is also proving popular among employees, with more than 53% fully supporting the concept, compared with just 2.1% that hold a negative view.




The WFH Survey, which canvassed the opinion of more than 300 corporate clients and candidates on KOS International’s database, suggests that the appetite for flexible working is increasing. Some 27% of corporate respondents support an across the board continuation of a WFH policy after the COVID-19 outbreak is over, and many more (44%) agree with WFH, depending on roles and job requirements, as well as public safety and public health concerns (40%).

“However, WFH isn’t necessarily open to everyone who wants it. Less than half (45.9%) of the companies in our survey have made it available to all employees, with 25.4% applying it only to specific roles. Nearly 14% have no formal WFH or remote working policy, and 8.1% do not allow it at all,” said Joyce Cheung, Managing Director of KOS Solutions Limited, who added that some of the reluctance could be due to restrictions in highly regulated industries, such as FSI.

The majority of companies are equipping their staff with the tools they need to work effectively from home. That includes conference call facilities (63.9%), VoIP communications (16.3%) and the use of cloud computing assets (27.8%).

“That sounds like a positive picture, but the devil is in the details. While 68% of firms provide staff with laptop computers, only 64% reported also providing VPN access. That 4% difference suggests the existence of a threat window that could be especially damaging to corporate operations during this extremely sensitive time. Digital security is an area that can always benefit from more management attention and staff training,” said Cheung.


Highlighting hidden benefits

During the last decade, numerous studies have identified the bottom-line benefits of adopting a flexible approach to when and where employees work. But Hong Kong companies seem to have mixed feelings.

Although just over half (51%) of companies feel that allowing employees to work from home can improve morale and engagement to some degree, only 33% of the companies KOS surveyed were willing to label the improvement as “significant.” A small number – 14.5% – reported no improvement at all.

“More than a third of the companies (36%) we surveyed reported that most of their WFH staff were willing to spend more time on work tasks after normal office hours. That ties in almost exactly with the responses from individuals, 38% of whom said they work between 1-to-3 more hours each day when they work from home, compared with what they do in the office,” said Cheung.



The jury is still out on whether that extra time translates into improved productivity. Only 10% of firms reported improvements in that area, with the majority (50%) noting no change. Interestingly, some 40% believed that WFH had resulted in reduced productivity!

Employees reported that one of the biggest drivers of personal efficiency is fewer interruptions from colleagues (30%), followed by not having to attend “non-critical” meetings (21%). That said, nearly a quarter (24%) of all individuals surveyed felt they were significantly less effective when working from home compared with in the office.


While extra efficiency is often seen as the primary goal of WFH, there are other potential benefits. One of the most unexpected results of a company-wide WTF policy may well be savings on medical insurance.

“Staff that work from their own homes take less sick leave than their office-bound counterparts. More than half of the companies quizzed in the KOS WFH Survey (53.8%) reported less sick leave taken after offering WFH on a regular basis.

Fewer employees in the office means less space is needed, and that can be trimmed still further by adopting flexible, shared solutions such as “hot-desking.” As a result, rents can be reduced.  Alternatively, the company can afford to move to more upmarket premises to impress customers or get closer to existing clients.


Employees the biggest winners

Businesses might be seeing savings, but the biggest winners could be employees, who save time and money because they don’t have to travel to offices. Some 80% of individuals surveyed by KOS agreed that working from home also allowed them to avoid crowded transportation, which led to less stress.

Switching from hours on the road to a 30-second, bare-foot commute also offers staff more free-time to dedicate to their friends, family and health improvement activities, such as exercise and sport. Almost 30% of the people surveyed found that they exercise more when working from home, although around a quarter (25.6%) actually exercise less!


According to the KOS WFH survey, employees generally welcomed their employer’s work-from-home policies. Most of them (71.5%) don’t miss the office when they are away from bosses and co-workers.

“WFH may not be for everyone. About a quarter of those we surveyed (26.7%) do sometimes feel lonely or helpless. That’s an area where HR teams can play a role in reducing or eliminating those kinds of feelings by reaching out and staying in touch with employees,” said Cheung.


More is work essential to promote long-term WHF policies in Hong Kong

In recent years, WFH policies and the technology to support them have become commonplace at businesses in North America and Europe. However, while many Hong Kong firms implemented such solutions during the SARS crisis nearly two decades ago, a surprising number are still not convinced of its long-term value.

“When it comes to the idea of working from home, the city still faces the challenge of overcoming some Chinese cultural issues and traditional business practices. For some managers in local companies, seeing is still believing. They find it hard to believe their employees are working hard if they can’t actually see them sitting at their desks. Hopefully, snapshots like this survey, and the way Hong Kong leverages WFH to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak, will help change that perspective,” Cheung concluded.


Putting WFH into practice

Implementing WFH can offer significant benefits. However, the results aren’t automatic. Like any process, WFH needs to be clearly defined, so that the company and its employees fully understand the parameters and expectations.

  • KPIs – Senior, middle and line management teams should set clear daily KPIs and expectations for employees. This helps to take the guesswork out of whether the WFH programme is working, by providing a guide for everyone to work to, and a background against which performance can be compared.
  • Briefings – Some staff naturally take a mature attitude and work well on their own, while others have problems with self-discipline. But, constantly bombarding staff with emails and status requests can be counterproductive and ends up being frustrating for everyone involved. That’s why regular briefings for teams or individuals – conducted via Zoom, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams, WebEx, or whatever ICT you choose to use – are a good idea. 

    A short morning session before the day gets underway, followed by quick catch-up calls at mid-day can help keep everything on track. And they don’t always have to be formal. Managers can add a more personal touch, and reduce stress levels, by scheduling sessions during coffee breaks or lunch hours. A wrap-up at the end of the day to benchmark progress and get everyone ready for tomorrow can also be useful.
  • Security – Technology underpins the entire WFH concept, but it can also be a double-edged sword in terms of security. Companies must keep a careful eye on cybersecurity and set clear guidelines for how employees handle corporate data when working from home.
  • Location – Having a dedicated desk and a workspace that keeps family disturbances, like pets or kids at arm’s length, can be a huge help. Making the rest of the household aware that someone is working can also reduce the likelihood of irritations, such as noisy vacuum cleaners or loud TVs which can interrupt video-conferences.
  • Self-discipline – Employees should plan out their daily schedules or timetables, so they always know what they need to do and when it has to be done.
  • Dress for success – People sometimes think that WFH means working in your pajamas. Although that might sound comfortable, getting dressed inappropriate, slightly more business-oriented clothing is a useful tactic to re-focus attention away from domestic concerns and onto professional matters. A well-groomed appearance is essential for video-conferences.
  • Take a break – One or two short breaks in the morning and afternoon, to grab a cup of coffee or do some stretching exercises – can make a tremendous difference. When work resumes, people feel recharged and ready to go.