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Coronavirus meets Chinese business resilience

Coronavirus meets Chinese business resilience

As China wages its war against 2019-nCoV, many individual battles are playing out – the fight to contain the virus, the race for a cure, efforts to limit economic damage and the struggle against xenophobic attitudes towards Chinese people around the world. 

With most office workers in China returning to work today after the extended holidays, we’re now starting to witness another battle playing out – a showdown between the challenges of operating in a constricted environment and the resilience and determination of Chinese business. And I know which I think will prevail.

Hunger for success

Western observers often bemoan how Chinese business culture is typified by aggressive deadlines, constant urgency and great impatience. There are some elements of truth in these generalisations, but many fail to realise that these characteristics are all underpinned by a relentless hunger for success.

It’s essentially this hunger that results in tough customer-service demands from Chinese firms - including fast response times, rapid service delivery and hands-on support. While taxing for the supplier or partner, these requirements generally push all involved to achieve goals faster. 

And such a pragmatic, entrepreneurial attitude lies at the core of Chinese competitiveness, enabling Chinese companies to respond rapidly to market requirements and achieve success much more quickly than many of their international counterparts.

The challenges of the virus

Although most office workers have returned today, obstacles inevitably remain in getting back to the pre-outbreak status quo. Many cities are still locked down and there are travel restrictions in and out of certain regions. 

Logistics networks have been disrupted, partly due to a lack of staff, and many people are reluctant to conduct any non-essential external meetings or travel until the situation improves. 

‘New normal’ 

But Chinese firms are good at rising to challenges. And most have wasted no time in establishing flexible work arrangements to get around many of the restrictions. 

Of greatest importance, many managers and employees - including our own Shanghai team - have successfully been taking part in what some are calling ‘the world’s biggest work-from-home experiment.’ They’re organising meetings via video chats, using collaboration software and working with productivity apps to an even greater degree than usual. 

Chinese companies, in short, are adopting a ‘business as usual’ attitude. They’re adapting to constraints, overcoming challenges, looking ahead and still doing deals.

And their ingrained pragmatism, combined with the admirable levels of social discipline and resilience demonstrated by the public over the past few weeks, will swiftly create a ‘new normal’ environment.

So, while right now may not be the best time to get on a plane for your next trip to China, there’s no cause for panic and no reason for western firms to put China expansion plans on hold. 

In typical fashion, I fully expect China to get back to business normality sooner than the rest of the world expects.

Alex Barton
About the Author

Alex Barton

Alex leads our Greater China and Southeast Asia operations, overseeing our teams on the ground which help our clients expand in these markets. Originally from the UK and raised in Belgium, Alex has lived and worked in China for more than 10 years and is a fluent Mandarin speaker. He has a BA in Chinese studies, an MA in international business and an MBA.

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