Virtual Annual Conference Explores the Evolving World of Work
By the Hong Kong Institute of Human Resource Management
  • Themed “Thriving in the New Normal — People • Culture • Mentality”, the HKIHRM Virtual Annual Conference 2020 sets the stage for the future of work, with insights on turning challenges into meaningful change.

  • The conference dives into ways that HR practitioners can leverage their vision, passion and competencies, to support and motivate a connected workforce through an era of disruptions.

Thanks to COVID-19, work practices are changing rapidly, with HR practitioners at the forefront of this transformational world. As well as providing a platform to discuss trends and issues relevant to the HR profession, the two-day Hong Kong Institute of Human Resource Management (HKIHRM) Virtual Annual Conference 2020 advocated for the HR function and their organisations to step up and embrace the new normal.

Presented virtually for the first time due to the need for social distancing, the conference, which took place on 24-25 November 2020, featured keynote presentations and concurrent sessions offering a wealth of takeaways for multigenerational HR practitioners. 

At the conference, keynote speakers and panellists from different industry sectors provided insights, focusing on lessons learned and strategies for tackling recovery and building a sustainable future. The conference enabled virtual attendees to exchange views, ask questions and learn from experts about new normal HR topics, from employee well-being to performance management. Notably, the conference brought to the fore how 2020 had amplified the HR function’s visibility, as C-suites grasped that HR leaders and their teams are the professionals well placed to support their organisations.

Affirming his confidence in Hong Kong to succeed in the new normal, in his opening remarks, the Hon Christopher Hui, JP, Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury, the Government of the HKSAR, said that despite the challenges created by COVID-19 and geo-political issues, he believes the city has the strength and qualities to seize opportunities. In particular, Hui singled out the Greater Bay Area (GBA) and Hong Kong’s government-led impetus to establish the city as a green finance hub, as areas where personal goals and careers can be pursued and fostered.

Pointing out that Hong Kong has been confronted by some of its steepest challenges in recent years, in her welcoming remarks, HKIHRM President Margaret Cheng praised HR professionals for playing a pivotal role in ensuring business continuity and laying the groundwork for the future prosperity of their organisations. To prepare their organisations and employees for a world where change is the only constant, Cheng said it is imperative that HR teams instil perpetual employee learning across the board, which focuses on workforce agility and digital savviness. 

In their welcoming remarks, Ian Choy and Teddy Liu, Co-chairpersons of the HKIHRM 2020 Virtual Annual Conference Organising Committee, highlighted how the conference provided a safe and positive environment where like-minded participants could exchange insights, strategies and lessons that help them and their organisations to become more robust and flexible, in order to flourish in the new normal.  

Nurturing a fighting spirit

Focusing on the value the HR function delivers, during the first keynote presentation of the conference, Ricky Wong, Vice Chairman and CEO of Hong Kong Television Network Limited, said change and challenges have always been unavoidable. Instead of devoting energy on preserving the status quo, Wong said it should be directed towards embracing the new. This involves the HR function inspiring employees to develop a team-led fighting spirit. To achieve this, he said HR practitioners need to build story telling skills that illuminate the goals and mission of their organisations, in a way that draws employees with the “right” personality fit. 

Furthermore, Wong suggested that organisations motivate their employees by offering them stimulating work and challenging career opportunities that keep them engaged. In good times and bad, he said an organisation’s success relies on engaged employees because engagement is synonymous with productivity. Wong added, since their decisions determine recruitment and training strategies, which ultimately shape the culture of the organisation and its ability to thrive, HR practitioners are more relevant than the CEO in some ways.


Communication is key

Offering new concepts with real world examples, the CEO Forum featured prominent business executives from diverse industry sectors, who emphasised that communication is crucial to strengthening employee engagement and trust. As COVID-19 resets traditional work trends, in close collaboration with their HR function, the CEOs underscored the need to focus on employee safety and wellbeing ahead of work priorities. This, they said is particularly relevant as the rapid transition to working from home has blurred the line between personal and workspace, which has led to a rise in stress levels and emotional issues.

As the future of work plays out, the CEOs noted the importance of letting employees know how they don’t have all the solutions to tackle new obstacles. To highlight solidarity, the panellists concurred that it is vital to show authentic empathy and not shy away from showing their own vulnerabilities. 

Stepping up to solve challenges

Offering context and commentary on topical issues in the Senior HR Forum, panellists explained what the new normal means to them personally and the organisations they work for. In addition to feeling empathy, the panellists said they have been motivated to explore new ways to implement positive changes that benefit employees and the organisation. Hand in hand with senior management, this includes gaining an end-to-end picture of post-COVID-19 strategic goals, to evaluate the impact trends will have on their organisations’ operations and how these relate to talent management needs. As the HR function serves as the bridge between people and management, the panellists said HR leaders are in a position to coach employees as they adapt to new approaches to work efficiently. Given that at least some degree of working remotely will be a fixture of the future, it is imperative for HR professionals to nurture the soft skills necessary for growth in times of adaptability. 

Empathy and support

In the second keynote presentation of the conference, Professor Gabriel Leung, Dean of Medicine, The University of Hong Kong, stressed the importance of confronting the humanitarian costs from COVID-19. At a time when people are anxious about maintaining their jobs and wellness, Prof Leung said it is imperative for those in leadership roles to listen and respond to the needs of colleagues and their subordinates.

Furthermore, Prof Leung said it is important to be empathetic to the views and values of others. He said leaders also bear the responsibility of being honest to those that depend on them for information. As such, they should avoid painting a rosy picture if this is not the case. Prof Leung added that it’s okay not to be okay – these are not normal times, but they will pass.

As one of Hong Kong’s top medical experts advising the HKSAR Government on COVID-19, Prof Leung suggested it is pragmatic to assume the public health situation’s impact will remain widespread for the foreseeable future. Thus, organisations and individuals should be prepared and act accordingly. 

Fresh perspectives from young guns

Aligned with the HKIHRM’s objective to nurture the next generation of HR practitioners, the Young HR Forum provided a platform for young yet experienced HR professionals to offer their views on adapting people strategies to drive change in the workplace. The panellists zeroed in on the significance of motivating employees through meaningful strategies such as wellbeing, long-term growth, and development programmes. 

However, they stressed that solutions need to be designed to serve employees. This can only be achieved by keeping a pulse on staff sentiment, so that the HR function and business leaders can act on the topics that matter the most. With reskilling as a top talent initiative for future business success, the panellists pinpointed how it can be valuable to harness multigenerational skills and experiences, to prepare their people to emerge from the economic downturn effectively.

While the conference made it clear that the future of work will require radical and continuous reimagining of traditional work practices, the HR function is undoubtedly in a pioneering position to steer organisations through vast challenges, which are, at their heart, talent issues. 

Positivity holds the key to conquering life’s mountains

As the first and only Hong Konger to have climbed Mount Everest and reached the top of the world not once, but three times, John Tsang, mountaineer and adventure guide, knows a thing or two about surmounting challenges.

Inspirational speaker at the HKIHRM Virtual Annual Conference 2020, Tsang explained while the majority of us will never climb a mountain like Everest, many of the same principles for reaching the pinnacle of Earth can be applied to both career and personal aspirations. He pointed out how preparing to climb a mountain, lead a team or build a career requires planning, persistence, courage and a positive mindset. Importantly, like climbers that rope together for support, it takes trust and teamwork to achieve success. Using mountaineering as a metaphor for achieving career goals, Tsang said there is rarely one fixed path to success. For instance, sometimes the route deviates or gets blocked by unforeseen obstacles. Citing the world of work’s transformation in the new normal as an example, when this happens, Tsang said it is important to pause, stay calm, reflect, and develop another strategy to overcome the challenge. A believer in adapting and learning, Tsang advised that if a plan gets derailed, setting the objective back on track can lead to the discovery of new strengths and enhanced selfunderstanding, which can be applied in overcoming future hurdles.

Built from the experience gained from leading climbing and adventure expeditions, Tsang’s leadership philosophy is centred on clearly communicating a vision and listening and responding to feedback. He added it is important for leaders to show genuine passion and praise their teams, and to stay humble when it comes to personal achievements. Having been in numerous situations where serious injury — he broke both legs and several ribs and suffered frostbite on a climbing expedition — or even death is a possibility, Tsang said it is only normal to feel nervous when facing an unfamiliar situation.

Whatever the scenario, it is imperative to focus on the positive outcome instead of the fear of failure. Ultimately, Tsang said, following dreams by entering uncharted territories is what empowers us to live a fruitful life.

Virtual Annual Conference Explores
the Evolving World of Work
PR 11 January, 2022