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In this exclusive interview with Human Resources Online, Leo Chan, director, human resources for Microsoft Hong Kong outlines the company’s vision for the future of work and the HR best practices the tech giant has initiated to keep employees healthy and motivated during the myriad challenges thrown up in 2020. Robert Blain reports

VITAL STATS: Leo Chan is the director of human resources for Microsoft Hong Kong. He oversees the day-to-day operations of all people-related programmes to support the growth of the Hong Kong subsidiary. Having worked at the technology and life insurance sectors in North America and Asia Pacific, he brings a diverse skill set specialising in talent management, people development, organisational learning and talent acquisition.

What strategies has Microsoft used in Hong Kong to help the employees get through the challenges of 2020?

At Microsoft, we have always employed a flexible working policy, even before COVID-19. Our employees are empowered to work and collaborate anytime and anywhere, by taking advantage of our technologies and tools like Microsoft 365, Teams and Surface devices. Amid this new normal, our employees are therefore well-equipped to be more productive regardless our working location.

We have rolled out this policy worldwide to implement hybrid working. We aim to provide a trusted, secure, and inclusive experience for every employee, and most importantly to remove geographical barriers so that they can enjoy the same collaboration experience despite their physical locations.

It was important to digitalise our entire business processes and workflow, and we have been relying heavily on Teams and apps built on Power Platform as an integrated platform to enable seamless and secure collaboration as well as more streamlined HR process flows.

Besides providing the right technologies to help our employees to stay productive, it’s also our priority to take care of our colleagues’ wellbeing during this challenging time. We encouraged employees to borrow or buy the necessary office equipment to make sure they have the necessary equipment like office chairs, mouse and headsets, even when they are working remotely. This is essential for wellbeing.

Hybrid working is the way forward. Technology and collaboration tools will play an increasingly important role in our day-to-day work even when we all fully return to the office. 

We also started regular ‘hybrid’ fitness classes led by a professional personal trainer to encourage our employees to exercise and workout, and our employees really appreciate this.

We always put our people first. Throughout the crisis, we have been focusing heavily on empathy and communication – particularly on how to engage our employees virtually, and how to cultivate an inclusive culture to accommodate different people’s needs. We want to empower them with technology so they can be their best.

Hybrid working is the way forward. Technology and collaboration tools will play an increasingly important role in our day-to-day work even when we all fully return to the office. Nurturing an inclusive culture and unleashing the power of technology will continue to be our focus.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned about employee management during the pandemic?

One key thing we learned was the importance of empathy and providing care and support to our employees. In addition to providing digital tools to help everyone to increase their productivity, managers should encourage a trusting culture and help their employees develop a growth mindset. This will help them to become more open and driven to learn and adopt new technologies.

We never track or monitor our employees. Instead we leverage our technologies such as Workplace Analytics to provide personal insights to employees for self-reflection and gather aggregated and anonyms insights to help improve the efficiency of our employees, and to understand how management can better support them.

Microsoft has a reputation as a tech leader. What transformation are you driving now?

Hong Kong is a very important community for Microsoft. Our focus has been empowering Hong Kong businesses and individuals to digitally transform and navigate such challenging times – from enabling remote working to new digital business models.

As we emerge from the clutches of the pandemic, we are focused on helping organisations reimagine their businesses under a new normal and driving recovery and building business resilience.

To help businesses drive transformation and innovation, Microsoft provides free digital skills training to talents, equipping them with the skills needed in the digital-driven world. One programme is a global skills initiative launched with LinkedIn and GitHub aimed at helping 25 million people worldwide gain more digital skills in 2020. Within Hong Kong, 30,000 learners have been reached in just three months.

Getting Hong Kong future-ready is also important. We have partnered with universities like HKUST and EdUHK to include technology education – such as getting AI into the curriculum and improving the digital literacy of our future talents.

Internally, we value the importance of upskilling of our employees and we encourage them to keep learning by setting up a monthly learning day, where every employee can dedicate their time and focus on learning new skills and knowledge through online training.

In my role as HR director, I embrace the power of data to understand how the organisation and our employees are doing. And this empowers me to improve their experience.

We also use technology to improve organisational efficiency. For individual employees, they are able to understand the time spent and the collaboration pattern with the insights generated from Workplace Analytics so they are able to adjust and improve their performance.

For management, we are able to gain valuable insights from the aggregated data to learn more about the operational efficiency as a whole and can make better decisions to streamline our business process and provide support to our teams.

How has Microsoft Hong Kong taken care of the mental and physical wellbeing of staff during 2020?

Our latest Work Trend Index report shows that one-third of employees in Asia Pacific experienced increased stress levels and burnout during the pandemic, mainly due to the lack of separation between work duties and personal obligations, with a blurred line between home and the work environment.

We want to alleviate this issue, and we have introduced a number of new features in Microsoft Teams and Outlook, including a mental health and meditation experience with Headspace, new Workplace analytics and insights that supports managers to understand how we spend time and allocate quiet time or collaboration time more evenly. We want technology to not just be enabling for people to work better, but also to preserve and create wellbeing.

Throughout the crisis, we have been focusing heavily on empathy and communication – particularly on how to engage our employees virtually and cultivate an inclusive culture to accommodate different people’s needs.

We also encourage employees to schedule more casual, regular catch-ups, since it’s easy to forget about the importance of human connection when most meetings are only scheduled for work reasons. Peer support is always important – we encourage our employees to express gratitude and appreciation towards colleagues using Kudos and Teams.

Describe your leadership style?

As one of the members of the leadership team at Microsoft Hong Kong, we share the same set of values and beliefs, that is, to create clarity, to generate energy and to deliver success.

In my role as the HR director, I truly embrace the power of data to understand how the organisation and our employees are doing. And this empowers me to improve the experience of our employees.

Microsoft has also fostered a more empathetic focus in my leadership style. We value feedback from every employee in the same inclusive manner regardless of their position. This is because we believe that care and respect should be at the core of a sustainable and empowering work culture.

How is the pandemic going to affect the role of HR in the coming years?

The world is changing rapidly with technology, and the process of hiring, retaining, and nurturing talents will evolve with this. The future of work will turn hybrid, with a blend of physical and remote working, so we can no longer rely on old, established methods. Instead, HR will now play an even more central role in empowering employees to work anywhere, anytime and to bring in this culture of hybrid working.

HR will now have to digitalise the entire operation, and rely more on data and insights to improve employees’ productivity. For instance, with the low-code to no-code Power Apps, HR can easily get our processes like vacation management and medical claims digitalised. And with the help of Workplace Analytics, our HR team is able to understand how in general the top performers in the company work and collaborate.

With these insights, we can roll out a tailored programme to drive more collaboration between specific roles and teams, as well as design internal trainings for wider employees.

It goes without saying that upskilling existing employees will be more important than ever to ensure our people are equipped and empowered to navigate this changing business landscape. And when recruiting talent, we also put a stronger focus on employee’s digital competency and interest to learn.

Those with a passion to develop their skills in AI, big data, and cloud computing, will definitely have an edge in the job market, as we see a stronger demand for digital talent in the workplace.

In short, HR professionals need to continue to be innovative and creative to engage our employees with technologies in the coming years.

How important is it for organisations to be good corporate citizens during the pandemic?

I believe that in such challenging times, it’s more important than ever to support and look out for those in need.  Microsoft is committed to empowering people from all walks of life to ensure an inclusive recovery.

For example, we have launched a number of key initiatives like the “#FutureReady Limitless Learning” programme and “Learn Anywhere Remote Teaching” Programme, aiming to support K-12 students and educators to embrace hybrid learning and teaching.

We also worked with NGOs to refurbish old laptops and desktop computers, and to provide the necessary software license to students and families in need, helping to narrow the digital divide in Hong Kong. We hope to provide equal learning opportunities to every student, equipping them with the skills they will need in the future.

In Microsoft Hong Kong, we have our vCare Day, an annual volunteering day held for all employees to give back to the community through organising various community services and activities. This year, we worked with local NGOs to host virtual workshops to provide hundreds of local jobseekers a free training opportunity for them to learn about the new technologies as well as the latest recruitment trends and career advice.

We hope to empower everyone in the community to recover and thrive in the new normal. And leave no one behind.


This interview has been published exclusively in the Oct-Dec 2020 issue of Human Resources. Read this edition of Human Resources, Hong Kong:

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