Published: 10:51, February 11, 2020 | Updated: 08:04, June 6, 2023
PDF View
Workers remain productive on home front
By Chen Nan

Employees adjusting to life away from office

A major intersection in Lujiazui, Shanghai, is largely deserted on Feb 7. (GAO ERQIANG / CHINA DAILY)

Deserted roads, near-empty subway cars and offices without workers are normally the last scenes you would expect to see in Beijing, especially after the weeklong Spring Festival holiday.

However, amid the novel coronavirus pneumonia outbreak, people have been encouraged to stay indoors and many companies have asked their employees to work from home to reduce the risk of being infected.

Usually, going back to work after the weeklong holiday feels a little strange. It takes some time to adjust to the hectic daily work schedule. Working from home has been an unusual experience and one that I think many people will remember for the rest of their lives

Cao Xia, telecommunications worker in Beijing

Liu Xinzi, 30, a Beijing resident, planned to vacation in Japan during Spring Festival, but canceled her trip and stayed at home in the capital with her parents.

"Usually, I return to Beijing a day before the holiday ends. After doing some cleaning and resting at home for a day, I go back to the office to work," she said.

Liu works for an artistic performance agency, which like many other companies, was due to resume operations on Feb 1 after Spring Festival.

"On Jan 30, I received an email from the company, telling us to extend our holiday for two more days," she said. She was then told to work from home until Monday, when she returned to the office.

Liu has worked at the company, which is based in the capital's downtown and has more than 100 staff members, for five years.

She usually rises at 6:30 am and heads for the office an hour later. "I have a simple breakfast, put on some makeup and feed my cat-all in just an hour, which is very tight," she said, adding that she uses buses and the subway to get to work.

She said that during the morning rush hour on a bus, she can spend as long as an hour in traffic jams.

"I once dreamed of working from home, which is a privilege. Now, because of the outbreak, it has become a necessity," she said. "It's a good opportunity for me to test my efficiency and self-discipline. I don't have to wear any makeup, I don't have to change into my work clothes and I don't have to wash my hair every day.

"We are facing a crisis due to this outbreak, but looking on the bright side, we now have more time to spend with our families.

"It feels as if I'm returning to my high school days. After finishing my 'homework', I have dinner with my parents at home," said Liu, who usually hangs out with friends and colleagues after work.

Her company has asked staff members to report their health status twice a day, and has sent them information about epidemic prevention. They have also been told to report their whereabouts.

A shared office in Beijing has been shut down. (FENG YONGBIN / CHINA DAILY)

Liu's work, which involves coordinating with artists and performance venues, has been badly affected by the outbreak.

"Obviously, it's not easy for me to work alone, so doing so from home involves lots of phone calls, video chats and emails," she said. "A lot of our work usually involves employees gathering together, which we cannot do during the outbreak. We have some big projects, which involve collaborating with international artists, but we have had to put those plans on hold."

According to a report from Ding-Talk, internet giant Alibaba's business collaboration and communication platform, some 200 million people are working from home due to the outbreak. More than 10 million companies in China are using DingTalk to contact such employees.

The report also said that over 200 education bureaus in more than 20 provinces, including Guangdong, Henan and Shanxi, are using Ding-Talk to launch online courses for over 12 million students from some 20,000 middle and primary schools. To support this unprecedented demand, the company has added more cloud servers to facilitate videoconferences and live group broadcasts.

Online media platform Tencent News commented, "As Chinese companies begin to restart operations, it's likely that a large number of people will be working from home."

Jiayin, an ethnic Mongolian woman living in Beijing who manages rock band F.U.N. and also works on music production projects for movies and television dramas, said, "We have to organize meetings and group discussions via online chat apps, or send our daily work content and plans through such apps.

"Working from home means not commuting... but a more comfortable environment. But bands have had to cancel many shows because of the outbreak, such as performances at music festivals, which has been a severe blow to us. Since a band needs inspiration for songs, staying at home is not a good idea, so this is a big problem right now. We also need to get together to brainstorm sometimes."

Many people have told of their experiences of working from home on social media platforms such as Sina Weibo.

One, sharing a picture of his desk, a computer, a cup of coffee and his staff name badge, wrote, "We need routine to remind us of the workplace, even though we are at home."

The Guomao central business district in Beijing on Monday. (FENG YONGBIN / CHINA DAILY)

Another person wrote: "We have a videoconference tomorrow, so I will wash my hair and dress well. It would be great if the chat apps had a 'beauty' function, so I wouldn't need to put on any makeup."

Some people have shared pictures of their pets sleeping next to computers. One netizen, who posted a picture of his cat, wrote: "Why must my cat always sit on my computer? I have to finish my Power-Point presentation today!"

Cao Xia, who works for a telecommunications company in Beijing, said: "We have been told to return to the office on Feb 10. However, by communicating through WeChat and email, we have remained just as productive as we would have been in an office environment."

He added that as Chinese companies rarely let their employees work from home, it has been a novel experience for him.

"Usually, going back to work after the weeklong holiday feels a little strange. It takes some time to adjust to the hectic daily work schedule. Working from home has been an unusual experience and one that I think many people will remember for the rest of their lives."

Cao said the outbreak has delayed the development of some new projects at the company. As the father of a 7-year-old boy, he has been paying a great deal of attention to the spread of the virus.

"Another thing about working from home is that I have to cook and take care of my son, which is tougher than working in the office," he said.

Zhao Yun, who works for a network security technology company, said in an interview with Tencent News, "On Feb 3, our company launched a chat group involving more than 8,000 colleagues in preparation to resume operations after the holiday."

Through the chat group, each department at the company has held two meetings a day, with staff members reporting on their progress.

However, some work cannot be done online. For example, the company has had to send employees to give technological support in Wuhan, Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak, where it is providing network security devices for the newly built Huoshenshan Hospital, where infected patients are being treated.

Many shopping malls have reduced their business hours, while karaoke bars and movie theaters have closed temporarily to help contain the spread of the virus. Blockbuster movie premieres have been postponed and many performance venues have cancelled shows.

Some businesses have turned to the internet to retain customer loyalty.

For example, gyms have closed but are encouraging people to exercise at home by sharing training classes through their social media platforms.

Cartoonist Liang Kedong, known online as Bai Cha (White Tea), has released a series of his work centering on iconic characters, including a fat, bossy, black-and-white cat named Wu Huang, a stocky dog named Ba Zhahei and their owner, an unnamed young man.

Liang, who is aiming to portray and reflect on the work people are doing from home, has received enthusiastic feedback from fans.

In one of his scenes, the cat sits in front of a computer looking alert and smart. An accompanying line states, "This is how my boss thinks of me when I work from home."

Another scene portrays the cat adopting the same pose, but looking sleepy, with a line stating, "This is how my colleagues see me." In the final scene, the cat remains in bed, with his face and hair unwashed. The caption states, "This is what I look like now."

"It's so true," one fan said on the cartoonist's Sina Weibo platform, which has nearly 5 million followers. "I didn't wash my face until the videoconference I was taking part in was about to start.

"It feels as though time has stopped at the start of 2020. I hope we can overcome this outbreak and that life can return to normal as soon as possible."

Contact the writer at