Workers at more than 60 per cent of Chinese companies still telecommuting amid coronavirus lockdown, says Baidu

Sarah Dai

Telecommuting remains the current choice of operation for more than half of Chinese companies coping with the shutdown brought about by the coronavirus, despite figures in recent days showing a slowing in the spread of the deadly disease inside China.

More than 60 per cent of companies in major Chinese cities have not reopened offices since the Lunar New Year holiday, allowing employees to work remotely from home, statistics from Baidu showed.

The massive shift in work mode to try and contain the spread of the virus has been labelled by some as the world’s largest work-from-home experiment with millions logging on from home instead.

Authorities earlier extended the Lunar New Year holiday break – initially scheduled from January 24 to 30 – and closed all schools across the country until further notice.

At least 24 of the country’s 31 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions – including mega cities like Beijing and Shanghai – had told businesses not to reopen before February 10 at the earliest. Most have remained shut even though a revised order has not been issued by authorities.

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The number of cases nationwide began to drop after February 15, according to Zhong Nanshan, China's top respiratory disease expert. “Although there was a large outbreak in Wuhan, we did not see massive outbreaks in other cities,” he said.

Meanwhile, online searches for the key word “telecommuting” surged 6.25 times over the past three weeks as companies tried to find ways to minimise work disruption by moving operations online, according to Baidu, which operates China’s biggest search engine.

The company also said the number of daily active users for its Baidu Pan service, a Google Drive-like virtual hard drive, has increased 50 per cent so far in February.

Guangdong province was the front runner with the most frequent use of telecommuting and productivity software platforms, followed by Jiangsu and Shandong, according to the Baidu data.

Still, as the number of new cases of coronavirus infections is falling across the country, some companies have reopened offices, according to Baidu.

Education, information technology, telecommunication and health care services are among the first industries to resume on-the-ground operations. Shenyang, Qingdao and Shanghai are ahead in this regard, with more than one third of local offices reopening in those cities this week.

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