Learning from China: How to Adapt the Workplace to COVID-19

Since China has been at the forefront of the battle against COVID-19, they have had to adapt quickly to the new normal.

Companies throughout China have, of course, implemented telecommuting practices, but remote working is only the tip of the iceberg. 

To stay operational and profitable during the crisis, many organizations have made extensive changes to their strategies, processes, and more.

Below, we’ll look at a few of the most important lessons that we can learn from how Chinese firms have adapted to the COVID-19 crisis.

Preparing for the Era After COVID-19: Lessons Learned from China

Here are five ways that business leaders can adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic and prepare for the new normal:

1. Build new structures and processes

To maintain business continuity, companies around the globe have had to make major changes not only to their strategies, but also to the way they operate.

Ping An Bank, for instance, flattened its hierarchy, increased the emphasis on digital transformation, and changed the work style from “managing with experience” to “managing with data.” These changes allowed the company to achieve new levels of productivity and agility, despite the turbulent conditions caused by the pandemic.

China’s popular travel site, Trip.com, was faced with mass cancellations and customer service requests. Among other new processes, the company implemented a one-click cancellation process, which streamlined customer experiences and reduced the back-end workload. 

2. Create a strong community and a culture of empathy

Remote work certainly has its advantages, but telecommuting can also make it difficult to create a strong sense of community.

Since telecommuters work alone, managers must make a concerted effort to:

  • Improve collaboration and communication
  • Foster social connections and feelings of solidarity
  • Mitigate feelings of isolation
  • Create a culture of empathy

To achieve these aims in a remote work environment, it is important to think creatively and leverage new technology as much as possible.

With the proper steps, organizations can help create a positive work environment for employees, whether they are online or in the office. But these ideas don’t just apply to the workplace, they can also be used to improve relationships with customers.

For instance, McKinsey reported that one bank used WeChat, video calls, scripts, and internal training to boost their client relationship program. 

3. Use technology to its fullest extent

Digital adoption has become commonplace for enterprises around the world. 

However, since COVID-19 has accelerated digital transformation in many industries, many have come to see digital adoption as an imperative.

Before the pandemic, for instance, online learning was never seen as a necessity. Yet after the outbreak, online learning solutions achieved widespread adoption. New Oriental Education and Technology Group was one platform that was able to meet the rising need for online education.

Like the virtual classroom, the virtual workplace must also adopt new online education tools.

Digital adoption platforms (DAPs) are one such tool – they allow employees to learn software skills anywhere, any time. By providing workers with contextualized guidance, DAPs ensure that employees remain engaged and productive, even if they are working remotely.

4. Stay secure

In a remote work environment, cyber security becomes more important than ever. Not only does online work open up new potential avenues for cyber attacks, it also increases the possibilities for inadvertent data breaches. 

There are several steps that should be taken when it comes to security, such as:

  • Establishing a culture based around confidentiality
  • Providing appropriate training to employees
  • Limiting data access to a need-to-know basis

Ping An, mentioned earlier, has taken steps such as these, which should augment the implementation of security software.

5. Experiment, learn, and adapt

Agility should become a top priority for every organization, since change will become a main characteristic of the post-COVID era.

Though the next normal will not change as rapidly as the world did during the initial outbreak, we should expect to see ongoing changes across the business landscape.

It is impossible to predict exactly what will change or how fast – and this is precisely why it is so important to continually experiment, learn, and adapt.

Though crises can prove challenging or even damaging, they also present opportunities for growth and innovation.

Alibaba’s TaoBao, for example, was developed during the 2003 SARS outbreak, and it then went on to become the world’s largest ecommerce website.

The lesson here is simple: business leaders should continue to adapt and learn even during crises such as the current one.

Final Thoughts

The new normal will challenge existing business models, strategies, and ideas.

However, as we have seen above, staying adaptable can not only help companies weather crises and paradigm shifts, they can also help them become leaders in the subsequent era.

Given the scope and extent of the COVID-19 pandemic, business leaders should learn lessons from business leaders around the world.

Absorbing and applying those lessons will help ensure business continuity during the new normal.

Chris is the Lead Author & Editor of Change Blog. Chris established the Change blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to Change Management.