Return of the Workforce During the COVID-19 Lockdown in ChinaAriel
Return of the Workforce During the COVID-19 Lockdown in China
When the Chinese government allowed manufacturers to re-open in the wake of the COVID-19 lockdown, Quasar and other companies couldn’t simply flip a switch to restart production. One of the biggest challenges manufacturers faced was in finding ways to bring the workforce back to the plant. In Quasar’s case, the majority of our 1,400-person workforce was spread across many different regions of the country.
The timing of the lockdown couldn’t have been worse. Most of our employees had traveled to their hometowns for the Lunar New Year, and transportation systems stopped running only after they had left for the holiday. Even when transportation could be arranged, each province had its own rules and politics to navigate.
To make things even more complicated, some employees were afraid to return to a major city as the outbreak was growing. For those willing to return, transportation and housing were to be arranged not just for the employees, but for their families as well.
So, how did we get our workforce back and restart production? Our success hinged on a few key factors.
One of the most important actions at the very start of the COVID-19 lockdown was to establish lines of communication between our human resources team and other department managers. Our head of human resources, Linda Tung—who was herself stuck in Wuhan—worked with project managers to determine which employees were essential for processing clients’ orders.
Based on that information, Tung set up WeChat groups for every project team to facilitate information sharing and arrange transportation. Tung, department managers, and the rest of our human resources team also began making calls to individual employees to find out what they would need to return to work.
Expedited Travel Permits
Another important part of bringing our workforce back to Shenzhen involved working with local authorities to get travel permits for our employees. Thankfully, since Quasar produces medical devices, our workers were considered essential.
We were able to get travel permits quickly even in the midst of the lockdown in part because of our strong relationship with authorities in Shenzhen. Our company has built trust over many years, so local leaders were relatively quick to grant authorization for Quasar to bring workers back into the province.
We also needed to convince authorities in workers’ home provinces and cities that we could keep employees safe. For that, Tung set up an emergency team that local officials could contact for information about Quasar’s preparations.
With permissions quickly in place, we were able to begin arranging transportation for critical workers even in the middle of the lockdown.
Establishing A System To Guarantee Safety
Underlying all of these efforts to bring employees back to our Shenzhen factory were a number of changes to keep workers and their families safe once they arrived.
For example, on the factory floor, we offered pre-made lunch boxes for employees. We also staggered break times and ensured physical distancing between employees on our assembly lines.
Our dormitory capacity was reduced. Tung and her team ensured that workers and their families could be fully isolated from others throughout the lockdown period while also providing support and essentials.
Ultimately, Quasar was one of the most successful manufacturers in China at returning our workforce and restarting production. It took just 11 days after manufacturing resumed to return more than 90% of our employees. Quasar was highlighted by the local media and government as a model for the rest of the country.
Our human resources team went to extreme lengths in bringing our workforce back in the midst of China’s COVID-19 outbreak. This special effort was essentially the backbone of Quasar’s success to reboot operations. Dedication to the mission, creative problem solving together with empathy, and transparency were the enabling factors.