2 to 3 minute read.
As the world rallies to deal with the current health crisis, China is beginning to look forward to post COVID-19 recovery.
We’d like to share the experiences of ThoughtWorks China, at the epicenter of the pandemic; the challenges we faced and our learnings, so that others might benefit from them too.
As 2019 drew to a close, and with the Lunar New Year holiday looming,
it was business as usual at ThoughtWorks Wuhan.
Many of the teams were preparing to travel home to visit family and friends in other cities. In the background, scattered news reports began to appear, referencing several cases of an unusual form of pneumonia in Wuhan, a port city of 11 million people in the central Hubei province.
By early January 2020, officials announced that they had identified a new virus,
according to the World Health Organization.
Sensing the panic that had begun to bubble to the surface in many cities,
ThoughtWorks Wuhan formed an emergency team, to proactively monitor the escalating situation in their city, and to communicate with our people as the situation unfolded.
At the same time, conversations with clients began to turn to the possibility of remote
working from home, and what that model might look like, should the need arise.
Already experienced in distributed delivery, the teams provided guidance for remote logistics, processes and project governance.
By late January, reports of infections, and recorded deaths continued to grow across China. However, for many, life and work still continued as normal.
Though the city continued to operate, the ThoughtWorks Wuhan team made the decision to temporarily close our office, for the protection of ThoughtWorkers, our clients and the broader community.
The ThoughtWorks emergency team began checking in on the health of all ThoughtWorks’ China employees, and their family members, on a daily basis.
With the office now closed, ThoughtWorks Wuhan projects were officially moved
to remote delivery models, and 300 ThoughtWorkers began to work from home.
January 23rd. Lockdown.
The Chinese government announced that the city of Wuhan was now under quarantine, as air and rail departures were suspended. Other businesses closed their doors.
As the situation escalated, the ThoughtWorks Wuhan emergency team expanded to become the ThoughtWorks China emergency team.
The Government announced that the New Year holiday would be extended in an attempt to contain the outbreak, by restricting public movement and large gatherings.
It was time to implement the plan to move all ThoughtWorks China teams to a remote working model. Successfully executing an operation of this size took a lot of collaboration.
We needed to set up a scalable remote infrastructure for all of our team members.
Security considerations remained top of mind, and were carefully managed, and we procured an emergency budget for purchasing masks, disinfectant and other supplies, while ensuring that our people were safe and well, and our clients protected.
As the outbreak continued to spread throughout the country and beyond, Coronavirus was officially declared a global emergency by the World Health Organization. Everyone in China was asked to stay inside.
We believe transparency in a crisis is crucial, and frequent status updates to clients helped us to have an open conversation.
We set up account and project-level delivery guidelines, to ensure that all team members understood expectations and ways of working principles that needed to be adopted for remote working.
We also defined key remote performance metrics, so that we could measure the impact of remote work on delivery.
A daily highlight report and a deeper weekly performance report were shared with client stakeholders.
To ensure business-as-usual could continue, we began to run remote inceptions
and workshops, allowing us to set up and deliver new pieces of work.
Remote workshops can be challenging, so we needed to work through the logistics carefully.
To continue to care for our people, we maintained our existing daily health checks, and also prioritized mental health care, by extending access to our employee assistance program to 24-7 mental health support.
By week three of the lockdown, we had ironed out most of the issues that had arisen with the move to remote working, and incorporated client feedback into our new processes.
Our teams sought ways to stay connected, with remote activities, such as online townhalls, remote karaoke and team exercise routines, helping to reduce stress and maintain morale.
A month after the outbreak had first occurred, we put together data to measure the impact of the move to remote work. Despite the disruptions, productivity remained high.
At the beginning of March, new cases in China began to decrease dramatically.
We prepared a staggered return to our offices, with 50% of ThoughtWorkers maintaining the remote model, to minimize risk.
Having weathered the storm of COVID-19, the ThoughtWorks China team are now planning for the future, helping our clients to recover, and to build organizational resilience so that they are better positioned to adapt and manage any further unpredictability.
We hope that by sharing our experience and learnings can help others who are facing similar challenges right now.
You are not alone. We are all in this together.