Managing your business remotely in China during the coronavirus outbreak
The current coronavirus outbreak in China and the drastic measures
taken by the local government to minimize the spread of the virus
-named COVID-19- have forced many companies to implement
“work from home” strategies. While some businesses in China are
slowly returning to their normal work schedule, in areas where
transportation is still affected, many companies still depend on their
employees to work remotely.
Traditional methods of business operation such as express mail for delivery of important documents cannot function under these circumstances. Such services have been shut down because both the physical documents themselves and the workers carrying documents can be a cause of potential contamination.
The switch to work from home could be a difficult one, especially for companies used to a lot of “face-time” or lacking the proper technological infrastructure to transmit data and maintain fluent communication channels with their employees.
China’s massive work-from-home exercise began last month, when the Chinese authorities tried to contain an epidemic of a new coronavirus. As the Lunar New Year holiday approached its end, DingTalk, an enterprise app from e-commerce giant Alibaba, suddenly became one of the most downloaded free apps in China.
Companies that have a well-established corporate digital infrastructure in place, can supplement it with other tools that exist in China, while being aware of the limitations and weaknesses of these public channels. In this case, the remote working shouldn’t be a big hindrance in the short-term.
If your company doesn’t have a reliable corporate tool, such as MS Teams or Skype for Business (also known as Lync), intra-company communications may have to depend on telephone, corporate email, or less secure public channels, such as WeChat. If your corporate email server is hosted in your company’s HQ abroad, you may find that employees working from home are struggling to send or receive emails with large attachments.
This is a common problem when transmitting data into and out of mainland China due to the congestion at international exits. Many companies circumnavigate this problem by setting up VPN-like structures between their China offices and overseas offices; however, when employees are working from home – these contingency plans no longer function effectively.
For bigger companies, the concern is more about how to make sure the work experience is smooth for not only its own employees, but also for corporate users who rely on the firms’ online work tools to stay connected.
DingTalk has about 200 million users, who can create team chat groups, look at organizational charts, and video-conference. The app can also track attendance and overtime hours automatically. Since China’s great firewall blocks major Western websites like Google and Facebook, China’s work-at-home processes depends on domestic tech giants that offer their own counterparts of Google Doc or Slack—often with many more features.
Social media giant Tencent has also seen more demand for its work tools, WeChat Work, the corporate version of the WeChat app, and the videoconferencing tool Tencent Meeting. WeChat Work is used by over 2.5 million enterprises, covering 60 million corporate users, according to Tencent, which added that the app recorded a tenfold increase on February 10, when many firms and schools resumed work after the break.
Some Chinese apps have been quick to meet the unique demands seen among Chinese employees. DingTalk introduced a beautify filter to its video-conferencing feature. Meanwhile, Feishu, an enterprise messaging app from TikTok owner ByteDance that allows file sharing and document editing, rolled out a “health management” platform in response to the coronavirus where workers can log their location and daily temperature. The app is being used by over 50,000 employees at ByteDance, according to Xie Xin, the head of Feishu.
For client-facing or supplier-facing staff, the impact on operations because of the inability to physically meet their customers or vendors can be minimized if your company has robust corporate tools, such as MS O365. You may consider inviting your clients / suppliers to communicate with you through those channels as an “external user”. If you don’t have such channels but your clients do, you can organize for your team to be added into their networks.
It is vital that your IT staff (both overseas and in China) are available to deal with connectivity and other related issues. With employees working remotely, more problems can be expected.
If you have corporate communication tools that can be used effectively in China, make sure that your China-based employees know how to use them and stay logged-on. In some cases, employees of companies with these tools are not informed of their full capabilities. Evaluate requiring employees to download the apps onto their mobile phones as well.
If you have emails with large attachments, your employees in China may experience delays in receiving them, especially if your corporate email server is located overseas. Consider separating the email message from the attachment. Try to reduce the size of the attachments or find other channels for delivery of such attachments. Many services, such as Dropbox etc. are blocked in mainland China.
If your employees are forced to rely on non-corporate channels, such as WeChat to communicate and share files, it is important that you communicate the necessary guidelines on what kind of information can or cannot be shared over such channels.
This is an area where your internal legal resources should provide input. For instance, you may have contracts in place with certain clients or vendors that restrict the sharing of certain information over non-corporate channels. While efficiency is a significant concern, protecting the information coming in and out of your servers should be as well. Your China-based employees may share all sorts of documents and information via their personal WeChat accounts, unless you provide them with the proper guidance.
When people are working remotely, it is best to design a regular communication schedule. Most conference call platforms include not only an online attendance option where full functionality can be enjoyed during meetings, but also a “dial-in” option for those participants who simply want voice functionality through their mobile phones. This functionality is recommended for employees that might be facing limited bandwidth issues from their residential addresses.
Until the situation in China can be normalized, your company should take advantage of these technological tools to ensure that your China-based employees can continue working with some degree of efficiency. In the meantime, it is important to evaluate how to deal with the medium-term impact of this crisis in your business.
Business Continuity Plans need to be designed carefully before they are implemented, considering the nature of your business, its global requirements, as well as China-specific considerations. Once designed, appropriate hardware needs to be procured, software installed, and data migrated carefully. The process takes months, requiring close liaison between your operations teams in China (and elsewhere) and your IT resources.
The coronavirus health crisis has brought to the surface what has been known now for a while; that more and more, digital communications are replacing the traditional office environment. For companies that have implemented this type of technologies and have a “work from home” policy already established for its employees, this current situation will not affect them as much and could provide them with a temporary competitive advantage.
For any questions on how to manage your business during the coronavirus contact us by completing the online inquiry here below.
DISCLAIMER: All information in this article is verified to the best of our ability and is assumed to be correct at time of release; however, Woodburn Accountants & Advisors does not accept responsibility for any losses arising from reliance on the information provided within. The information provided is for general guidance and does not replace specialized advice.