Hong Kong workers flexible enough to check work emails over a coffee

Author: Kate Whitehead | Date: 2 Mar 2016

But constantly working on the go can damage your work-life balance, experts warn

Most Hong Kong professionals are happy to check their work emails in a cafe, but don’t want to spend all day conducting business from there.
A study by flexible workspace provider Regus found that nearly half of global respondents would check their work emails in a café or on public transport. However, 41 percent said they prefer not to respond to messages on their commute and 39 per cent are happy to send a short reply over coffee before finding a more suitable space to compose a more considered response.
Figures for Hong Kong are even higher, in large part because the city has one of the world’s best mobile networks. Almost two-thirds of Hong Kong respondents check their emails in cafés, and 52 per cent scan emails when commuting.
“In Asia-Pacific, Hong Kong is ahead of the curve when it comes to adopting flexible working practices,” says Natina Wong, Regus’ Hong Kong country manager.
Dr Jamie Cheung, programme director of the masters of human resources management at Hong Kong Baptist University, says there is an expectation that workers in Hong Kong will be available much of the time.
Wong says that the demand for a healthy work-life balance is proportionate to the work pressures people face. As many Hong Kong workers are overloaded and put in overtime, they have a greater demand for work-life balance.
“People get up, turn on their phone and start work. And they check their phone before they go to sleep. It has developed into a kind of habit, it’s not good for work-life balance,” says Dr Cheung.
Across the border in mainland China, the use of mobile devices to send messages on public transport (eight per cent) and to make phone calls (10 per cent) falls dramatically. Dr Cheung believes this is down to cultural differences: there is a strong preference for face-to-face communication in China, as a means of showing sincerity and respect.
“Sometimes people like to talk and negotiate before they put things on paper. Meeting face-to-face also helps to build a relationship; when you are only talking over a device you lose the human connection. In China, using digital communication in public spaces is okay for [social activities such as] Facebook – but not for business,” says Dr Cheung.
Although Japan is a leader in consumer mobile technology, ingrained cultural habits mean that executives are reluctant to use mobile technology in a professional context. Only three per cent of Japanese professionals interviewed by Regus said they would make a phone call on public transport.
“It is considered impolite to talk on the phone in a public space – or to raise your voice. The Japanese have time to make calls in the office, they have regular office hours, and after hours they have to entertain clients,” says Dr Cheung.
There is no doubt that flexible working practices are taking off. Managers around the world report that staff are more energised and motivated thanks to flexible working, says Wong. And a more motivated workforce means staff are less likely to leave their company, making flexible working an important talent retention tool. Wong sees no disadvantages to flexible working practices, as long as companies implement them smartly.
“Companies need to plan carefully – budget wise – to put an effective flexible-working scheme in place, making sure employees get effective and secure communication tools when they work on the go, and ensuring that HR and line managers can assess employee productivity when they are working outside the office,” says Wong.
The advent of smartphone technology, cloud computing and Skype have radically altered the way business is conducted. In addition to staff retention, reducing commuting time and cost and reducing an organisation’s overheads, Christine Wright, managing director of Hays in Asia, sees the offer of flexible working as a big plus when it comes to showing staff they are well regarded.
“We always try to stress that any form of flexibility – whether that’s working from home or part-time job sharing – is about demonstrating to employees that they are valued. It’s not just about helping working mums balance family responsibilities, but about helping all employees balance work with their outside commitments,” says Wright.