Coronavirus Q&A: Getting Back to Business
Published on February 20th.
Exactly three weeks after the WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern”, balancing safety and business continuity remains the key task of China-based executives. As most organisations have already introduced comprehensive safety measures, their focus now is on getting back to business.
We are proud of our Fiducia team who are helping us do exactly that: our Hong Kong colleagues are back in the office since February 3rd, our Shanghai office is at the official maximum of 50% since February 10th, our Beijing team is back to work (remotely at times), and our Shenzhen office will reopen tomorrow, following city-specific conditions and guidelines.
In today’s Q&A, we’re sharing some best practices and government incentives that can help businesses like yours and ours bounce back from this crisis – or ‘disruption’, as we prefer to call it – quickly.
1.How are SMEs successfully managing work-from-home in the current context?
For most companies, this is the first time that so many employees are working from home (WFH) for such a long period. So it is definitely the right moment to set clear WFH policies and enhance your IT/CT structure. But given the fluid and unique conditions – from regional lockdowns and transport restrictions, to mandatory quarantines – staying flexible and considering employees’ individual situations is key. Here are some recommendations based on what Fiducia and other China-based mid-sized companies are doing:
- Team rules: At Fiducia, teams working remotely start and end the day with a group call or videocon. This generates engagement and adds structure to the day, something we also achieve by setting clear and compatible working cycles through our shared calendar.
- IT: Review your existing communication and remote collaboration tools to make sure they’re working optimally and make sure your IT team is available to provide support. If you don’t have an adequate infrastructure already in place (e.g. an ERP system with remote access) it is a good moment to start looking into it. For the meantime, rely on ‘plug and play’ solutions such as Zoom, Lifesize, and of course WeChat – all of which work smoothly in China.
- Expenses: Consider reimbursing certain costs incurred by employees when working remotely (e.g. phone and internet expenses) and make sure everyone is aware of the support that’s available to them.
- Compliance: Monitor local government policies closely to make sure your WFH arrangements are compliant. Guidelines regarding the salary of quarantined workers, or the ability of an employer to suggest when to take annual leave, for instance, vary by region.
- Communication: Establish platforms/channels for managers to share best practices with each other, for staff to report challenges to HR, and for HR to provide guidelines and support.
2. How can I make my staff’s back-to-work experience as easy as possible?
Officially, authorities in most of China have allowed businesses to re-open, but the reality varies by region. In Shenzhen, for instance, companies must submit an application to reopen and, until now, only a small percentage of companies have been given the green light.
More importantly, workers are finding it difficult to return to work because of regional lockdowns, transportation hurdles, or mandatory quarantines. So most businesses right now – big or small, manufacturing or service focused – have re-opened only partially. Our clients’ production facilities are running, on average, at 30%-50%.
Those who do make it back to the office are likely to be facing challenges of their own. In most of China, people’s social lives are on standstill. With schools closed and many “Ayi” (private helpers) stuck in their home provinces, working parents are struggling to juggle work and childcare. And on top of this, they’re dealing with the fear and uncertainty surrounding the epidemic itself.
Employers should take on the role of offering both practical and emotional support to make their team’s back-to-work experience easier by. Consider the following:
- Flexible hours: Introduce flexible office hours so that employees can avoid peak traffic and lunch times.
- Workplace safety and comfort: Most companies with a factory in China have decided to close their canteen to reduce the chances of transmission. Office facilities may face problems such as that of our team in Shanghai, where the building’s occupancy rate was so low that the central heating system was kept off.
- E-learning: Even if your employees are back at work (remotely or not), there’s a good chance that big parts of your supply chain are not. This frees up a lot of time, which is why this is a good moment to encourage online training. Some regional authorities are offering generous e-learning subsidies for businesses affected by the epidemic (see below).
- Strategic projects: This is also a good moment to revisit projects that tend to be sidelined, such as internal optimisation efforts. At Fiducia, we’re using the time freed up from client-facing interactions to accelerate our digital transformation. We are recommending clients to do the same and supporting them in the process.
- Motivation and morale: Large companies, such as Daimler, have set up hotlines to offer psychological consultations. At Fiducia, one of our initiatives was a lunch workshop on “How to deal with anxiety”, where over half of the company joined (either physically or via videocon) to share personal experiences in a friendly and surprisingly open discussion.
3.Which of the recently announced government incentives should I be aware of as a foreign-owned company?
China is fighting the coronavirus outbreak on two fronts: controlling the epidemic itself while doing as much as possible to get the country’s economy back on track. The central government has announced important measures to help businesses weather the financial blow, but even more policies have been introduced at a city and district level.
Below, and in last week’s Q&A, are some preferential policies that we consider particularly relevant for our international clients in China. This list is not exhaustive and we expect more incentives to be released in the coming weeks, so get in touch with us at email@example.com for detailed and up-to-date information.
Social insurance payment exemptions/cuts:
- Nationwide, SMEs will be exempted from pension, unemployment, and work injury insurance payments between February and June 2020.
- In Hubei, this measure applies to companies of all sizes.
- For large enterprises, these three premiums will be halved between February and April.
- Nationwide, the February tax filing deadline has been extended from February 17th to February 28th, 2020.
- In locations including Beijing and Suzhou, SMEs can apply to defer their tax reporting for up to three months.
Refund of unemployment insurance premiums:
- In locations including Guangdong province, Beijing, Shanghai, and Suzhou, companies that do not lay off workers in 2020 can apply for a partial refund of the unemployment insurance payments made in the previous years.
Rental waivers or reductions:
- In some locations, including Shanghai, commercial property owners can apply for land/property use tax deductions
- SMEs renting state-owned properties can have their rents completely waived in February and March in some locations
- In Shanghai and other locations, enterprises that arrange online training for employees can apply for subsidies of up to 95%.
Our consultants on the ground in China are working hard to collect insights and come up with solutions which they will be pleased to share with you. Don’t hesitate to send them your questions or schedule a call with them at firstname.lastname@example.org.