The ability of banks in Asia to make sure their newly home-based staff are doing their jobs properly has been called into question by Hang Seng Bank trainees who posted Instagram pictures (which have since gone viral) of themselves hiking when they were meant to be working.
One of the photos, tagged “best WFH [working from home] activity”, shows a group of about six young Hang Seng management trainees posing at the Red Incense Burner Summit of Braemar Hill in Hong Kong. Another image is labelled “men in the wilderness” and shows them on a hillside, cheering at the camera.
As in Singapore, banks in Hong Kong have instructed some of their staff to work from home as one of their responses to stem a potential wider outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus. As a rule, about a third of investment banking and markets teams in Hong Kong are working from home, while another third are in the office, with the remaining staff based at disaster recovery units, according to an industry insider. Retail banks have closed some of their branches.
A spokesperson for Hang Seng, which is owned by HSBC, says the firm views the actions of the trainees “with grave seriousness”. “The individuals concerned are new joiners to the bank and, while not excusable, they may not have been fully familiar with the work from home arrangement. This will be further reinforced. The bank has an established mechanism to deal with such incidents and we will continue to strictly follow up on the matter,” she adds.
The Hang Seng case suggests banks should be doing more to monitor staff who are temporarily based at home. Unlike in Western markets, banks in Hong Kong don’t have a long tradition of allowing flexible working, and the policy has only come to the fore over the past nine months in the wake of the 2019 protests and the current coronavirus outbreak.
Banks do, however, have systems in place to hopefully ensure that incidents of breaching home-working rules don’t become a common occurrence. Remote desktops and other IT monitoring tools are being used to track what people are doing, says former trader Warwick Pearmund, now an associate director at search firm Hamlyn Williams in Hong Kong. Many banking teams have also set up new groups on WhatsApp or Symphony as an additional way to track workflows, he adds.
Ultimately, says Pearmund, it’s not just about the tech. Managers at banks in Hong Kong and Singapore “must now be in even more regular communication with their staff” to set and monitor daily tasks and goals. Team leaders should keep an especially keen eye on junior employees, who may lack the “maturity and engagement” to work remotely, he adds.
As banks in Hong Kong plough on with WFH arrangements, the hope is that the immediate challenges will be ironed out and more banking professionals will work remotely by choice, not just in reaction to short-term events, says former Barclays and UBS HR manager Renee Conklin, who now runs Hong Kong-based RC HR Consulting. “That is a small silver lining to the uncertainty we have all gone through in Hong Kong,” she adds.
Photo by Mark Goh on Unsplash
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