How Coronavirus Is Changing Business & Chinese Work Culture
These days, all we hear about is the coronavirus outbreak. Wuhan, a city of 11 million people has been put on lockdown since 23 January. Other cities are also under quarantine orders. The sites are pretty apocalyptic: empty streets, all public transport canceled, stores shut down, hospitals built in a week…
It may seem trivial to care about business under such circumstances but remembering the havoc that the SARS outbreak created 17 years ago we can’t help but worry. In that time, China’s GDP made only 4% of the global total, now it’s 17%.
However, one thing has changed since then: the internet. Not that we didn’t have it back then, but it was more of a privilege and not an essential tool like it is today. Since then, we’ve managed to create a dependency on technology and the internet like never before. Consequently, the way we do business has changed as well.
With that in mind, working from home has been a significant part of the business (r)evolution that the Internet has triggered. Although many large, medium and small companies have entirely embraced work from home, a bigger portion of the world is still reluctant. Including China.
China is infamous for its long hours of work culture. Companies are known to work on the 996 schedule: from 9 to 9, six days a week.
Nevertheless, the coronavirus has paralysed a major part of China and with no vaccine in sight Chinese, bosses have been forced to adopt the work from home practice. It’s either that or stopping operations for God knows how long.
Of course, this would not be possible for factories and companies relying heavily on physical work. Restrictions are very clear: complete cease of operation until further notice. While some of them have extra stock, others simply don’t have a plan B if they don’t start working soon.
Many companies have also prolonged Chinese New Year holidays, telling their employees to don’t come to work.
Although work from home is manageable for most businesses in the service industry, with banks and IPOs closed it will be difficult to work with a 100% efficiency.
Additionally, owners and managers fear the productivity levels will decrease too. They are afraid that not keeping a close eye on their employees can result in lower quality of work. Nonetheless, according to a 2015 study from Stanford University these fears are unrealistic – chinese staff who were given the chance to work from home increased productivity levels by 13%.
As it turns out, chinese managers no longer have an excuse for avoiding work from home and that’s at least one silver lining from this worrying global health situation. The so-last-century work culture in the most populous country in the world has finally been put to trial. Meeting rooms will now have to be replaced with Skype and their likes. Office conversation with Slack and emails. Distrust with trust.
Let’s hope that these changes won’t be reversed once this deadly virus is put to leash and life takes a normal turn once again.
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