Maintaining strength in times of crisis

Global reporting on the coronavirus epidemic has been front page news for over a month now, but it’s difficult to understand the reality of the situation unless you are here, on the ground. Managing a business in China amid this and ensuring that your staff are safe and well is challenging. EMG China’s office has remained closed since the Chinese New Year, as is mandatory for all businesses in Shanghai. Our team have become part of the 200 million people across China who have been working from home throughout February.

Everybody that we talk to has been impacted and is just trying to get through things as best as they can. The mood remains upbeat. Everyone continues to follow the health & safety protocols around the use of face masks and regular hand washing. All industries have been impacted inside and even outside of China – production is down, sales are stagnant, offices, plants and warehouses are empty.

A major impact for EMG and many of our clients has been due to the ban on public gatherings and events. Key trade shows scheduled from February to April including TCT Asia, Food Ingredients China, Semicon, and the Chinaplas show, have been postponed. So far only Chinaplas has announced new dates with the event now scheduled for August 3-6 in Shanghai. But the impact pales when you compare it to the hardship being faced by Chinese people who are struggling to get by, particularly in the epicentre of Wuhan and Hubei province, which has been closed off for weeks.

Taking contingency measures

So how have we responded to the outbreak ourselves and which measures have we put in place? With all our team in self-isolation across Shanghai, some living alone, some with their families, the most important issue has been to ensure that no one is disconnected, whether it is an internal colleague or an external partner. WeChat groups have been set up for intra-team messaging and communication. We speak daily on the phone and through web conferencing with clients, the media and our global headquarters in the Netherlands.

During the shutdown, we have all had remote access enabled, so we can continue working together using EMG’s online tools and systems.

Assessing the long-term implications

Chinese and Shanghainese pride themselves on being defiant and resilient. It's all about taking strength from times of crisis. You remind yourself that most importantly the whole team is safe and well and that so far, the direct health impact in Shanghai appears minimal. Looking forward, you can then begin to assess some of the longer-term implications and opportunities.

For example, you can see a massive escalation in the use of digital tools and practices. The role for VOIP, conference calls, video conferences and increasing digital dependency was already apparent in forward-looking cities such as Shanghai. This will become even more important after the outbreak.

Online classrooms are now being rolled out across China, with many schools remaining closed until March at the earliest. Within B2B, and for EMG, we are looking at online press conferences, and media briefings. Short online videos and live broadcasting are already commonplace in B2C communication and are being increasingly picked up in the B2B domain too.

At the same time, think of the industries that will have to find solutions to deter future health crises. The demand for medical health solutions, biotechnology and nutraceutical food ingredients to boost immunity will only increase in anticipation of tomorrow’s threats. And this current crisis will feed into a greater sense of knowledge and awareness on health and hygiene.

Taking heart from entrepreneurial spirit

Sometimes the greatest business successes come about in times of adversity. At the height of the 2003 SARS outbreak crisis, the little-known Jack Ma was placed into quarantine and forced to work from home. During this reflection period, the strategy and business model arose behind what would become Tabao – the world’s largest online selling platform.

Will the 2020 coronavirus epidemic again help to enable entrepreneurial spirit? Perhaps the next Tencent or Alibaba is taking shape right now in a deep-city apartment in Shanghai, Suzhou, or even Wuhan?

While acknowledging today’s difficulties and challenges, we need to stay positive. The trajectory for China remains forward looking and on course. We just need to safely get through this dark period.


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