Written by Alfred Liu, SAS China R&D
Alfred Liu, Head of SAS China Research and Development, shares his story about working through the coronavirus outbreak in China, tips for others going through it and his hopes for a return to normal life soon.
The Coronavirus Hits
On Dec. 31, when Wuhan found a patient with SARS-like characteristics, I didn’t expect that it would break out and the horrible time experienced in 2003 would be back again.
Jan. 23, 2020 was the last working day before our national holiday of Chinese New Year. People were focused on shopping and returning home for reunions and dinner parties. The city of Wuhan announced a decision to lock down the city at 10 am due to the novel coronavirus outbreak. Lockdown of surrounding cities in Hubei province followed. This gave me time to read a lot of articles at home to know the characteristics of the virus, how it spread and how to protect from infection. Knowing this, I made some decisions about the SAS China R&D office.
SAS Takes Action
The first action we took was to find out where our employees were, if they were healthy, what their travel plans were, whether they had visitors from epidemic areas and so on.
The second action was to buy surgical masks, sanitizers, and disinfectants. However, all the goods were in great demand and almost out of stock. Even if you found a supplier and paid the full payment, there was still a long queue to wait.
The third action was to ask everyone to work from home even though we faced many difficulties. First, all the schools were closed, and many employees had to look after their children at home. Second, the virus’ spreading ability was much stronger than that of other viruses. Commuting on the subway and sitting together in offices was not safe. Finally, some employees could not return to Beijing from holiday because transportation was shut down, and the city was on lockdown. But the most important thing was our employees’ health. One infected employee in the office could shut down the entire office. It had already happened to other companies. Our office was the first SAS office to shut down, and we felt very supported and cared for by our global leadership and offices around the world.
Several days before the shutdown, we asked employees to check if they had what they needed to work from home, including a computer, network, performance, etc. Our IT staff gave full-day support to solve various problems and answer questions. The SAS R&D China office has about 280 employees dedicated to transforming the way SAS works and it was important that our work continued.
In the first couple of days of working from home, we encountered some network issues, but IT quickly resolved them. Employees utilized technology to share their experiences and help each other. We used WeChat and Microsoft Teams for group meetings. By the end of the first work week, every employee could finish assignments and work effectively. We also asked:
- Every employee to report whether he/she had left from or returned to Beijing, health status, any discomfort, any visitor from the epidemic area, and whether they had contact with an infected person or not, to track employee health.
- Anyone who came back to Beijing to be quarantined for 14 days.
- Managers to have daily check-ins with their teams about their daily work, their health status, and ensure they were aware and following guidelines set by our local officials.
This allowed me to respond to all issues promptly. By the second week of working from home, some groups said their productivity was higher than working in the office. The working hours were flexible, people could choose the best time to work and some were more efficient/working longer.
Where are we now?
By the 5th week of working from home, the epidemic was under control in China. The number of confirmed cases dropped to two digits daily and continued to decline.
- On March 9 we started 50% of employees working from home and 50% of employees working in the office.
- On March 13, Wuhan only had four confirmed cases, everywhere else had almost zero except imported cases.
Although it was safe to return to the office, the epidemic was not over. Schools are still closed. The government only allows 50% of employees back to offices to avoid crowding and sitting too close to each other. We have new regulations for returning employees. The pregnant, lactating, those with children, those experiencing discomfort, and those still in quarantine, will still work from home. All other employees will begin to shift work to the office. Managers are working with HR on shift work schedules of every employee each week.
Tips for Others
Today, the coronavirus is spreading in many countries. Many companies around the world are now working from home. Our experience over the past two months may be helpful. My advice is:
- To everyone, protect yourself, not only for yourself but for your family and for your company. Report any symptoms from you or family member/household member to your manager.
- To managers, make sure you know every employee’s health and if they have traveled. Keep a clear mind about how to control the pandemic, so it does not happen in your office.
- To managers, communication is key. React swiftly, communicate often and make sure your employees have the resources they need to perform their jobs.
The good news is our employees are motivated and working with enthusiasm, resulting in excellent performance. Many employees have sent me messages of appreciation about SAS’ flexible management style and employee care. They are inspired to work hard for SAS and for our customers. And our work has been recognized by our leadership and global R&D teams with notes of appreciation, encouragement, and support. This drives us to continue to find the best way to work together.
We are in our second month of this pandemic and many are still working from home, but continue to do what’s best for our employees, our company and our customers. We hope the virus goes away soon and all the people can get back to normal life.