How to Operate Your China Business Remotely in 2020
Working from home has become a necessity for a lot of businesses operating in China after the end of the Chinese New Year Holidays. And it’s all because of the coronavirus outbreak.
A lot of big companies already had a lot of tools that could operate with remote employees, but plenty of small and medium businesses didn’t have any contingency plans to handle their employees working from home.
As a result, running a business the standard way has been difficult or impossible. So, what can businesses do? Have employees work from home using cloud tools for the short term.
This is an overview for small and medium businesses to resume or continue operations while using cloud tools steadily available in China.
The article will cover the below points:
- Productivity applications: Office 365
- E-mail & Website
- HR Remote management (i.e. online attendance)
- ERP / CRM
- Intracompany communications (chat and video conference tools)
- Cloud telephone system (Hosted VoIP Telephone PBX)
- Project Management
- IT Support
- DATA PROTECTION!
Google Doc and Slack are not considered, because they’re not available without using proxy tools. But some of China’s counterparts are similar – often better and with more features.
Until the emergency will not be over, businesses operating in China will have to use their cloud solutions and the digital infrastructure they had or implement their corporate IT with steadily available China cloud solutions.
For our company, this is the current setup:
- Our employees work from their laptops at home and have access to tools like Office 365 and AliYun hosting solutions. This allows them to respond to the clients via remote and handle their requests/incidents within the contract SLAs (service level agreements).
- Our documents are shared through Microsoft or Emails and our servers are using the latest protection tools provided by Alibaba and Microsoft in China.
- For conference calls or video conference calls, we use WeChat and the free tools available within their platform. We’re experimenting with Zoom for international clients.
The only possible issue: home internet speeds. But even magic has its own limitations.
If your company didn’t have a strong IT infrastructure before, some problems will arise. Some companies have contacted me because their emails, ERPs and/or CRMs are outside of China or hosted in their offices and the employees cannot access them steadily.
To help businesses operating in China I have created a checklist to improve the IT infrastructure using ONLY cloud solutions that work in China.
Productivity applications: Office 365
Office 365 (& Sharepoint) is the best business productivity suite in China that provides access to your documents whether you want to use the cloud, download on your multiple devices or share with your clients.
Get it done asap!
E-mail & Website
If your email server is hosted outside of China, you will face issues especially when your users try to access without proxy or when your employees have to send or receive emails with large attachments. This is a common issue for businesses operating in China with emails hosted outside of the PRC. If your business relies on a proxy / VPN, your users may face issues due to their home internet. In Shanghai, we have seen sharp decreases in speed given that a lot of people are at home 24 hours a day.
If you’re working with Office 365, have your employees download Teams / Sharepoint onto their smartphones.
Preferably, host your email in China, gain the ICP approval and run it using hosting providers legally operating in China. We prefer working with Azure and AliYun because of their reliability and steady workflow, but there are other solutions that can fit different budgets.
HR Remote management (i.e. online attendance)
For approvals, punch card and reporting you can use again DingTalk / DingDing, WeChat Work, Lark, and WeLink. (Thanks Grata for the analysis).
Pay attention that Lark does NOT provide reporting, yet.
ERP / CRM
Transfer your tools in China or select local players that can help you with the portability, unless you want to use proxy or MPLS connections.
SAP is the biggest international player operating in China and we handle the hosting of this tool for various clients either on-site at their offices/factories (with the creation of safe connections through Firewalls) or on the cloud using Azure from Microsoft or AliYun from AliBaba.
Kingdee is one of the biggest Chinese players and offers plenty of cloud features.
Salesforce recently started working with Alibaba to make their services available in the Mainland of China.
Some of my clients use Swivel software for their ERP / CRM for freight forwarding.
Feedback received: QAD has cloud-based solutions locally available.
Intracompany communications (chat and video conference tools)
MS Teams is the go-to solution from Microsoft. So add it to your portfolio of tools when you purchase from Office 365. You can also consider Skype for business and if you want an overview of the differences between Teams and Skype, you can check this post.
Hint: move to Teams asap.
Zoom was not working properly in China in the past, but recently has been working properly and plenty of people are using it for external video conferencing (it’s being used by businesses and volunteering groups alike; my volunteering group uses it for the weekly meetings).
WebEx is a good solution for companies for video conferencing, online meetings, screen share, and webinars.
WeChat is good for internal videoconference within China.
But the free version has 3 important limitations:
- There is a limit of 9 people for the videoconference over the phone
- The desktop version has only 1-to-1 video call available
- It brings risks of putting too much information on their servers. But users are already there the whole time.
TeamViewer is the go-to tool for IT companies, like mine, that do IT support. It provides remote desktop access, remote support and online collaboration. Different functions are for free for personal usage.
Zhumu is called the Chinese Zoom and is being used by a lot of schools. 90% similar to Zoom and all in Chinese.
Again, you can use DingTalk, WeChat Work, Lark, and WeLink.
DingTalk feedback from some users in China: it’s not very intuitive and it’s mostly in Chinese. The English translation is still a work-in-progress.
WeChat work has better English and it can integrate with the miniprograms and other functions of official accoutns of WeChat (feedback from a client working in the marketing industry in China).
Cloud telephone system (Hosted VoIP Telephone PBX)
The best tools in China are China Telecom and China Unicom. We have different clients and partners who are very happy with the hosted PBX from these two ISPs.
We have no clients working with China Mobile, so we cannot attest to their service firsthand.
Trello and Teamwork are the first tools that come to my mind. Different clients and associates second to this.
But, the biggest Chinese players are DingTalk, WeChat Work, Lark, and WeLink.
Other potential solutions: Monday.com has been recommended.
Make sure your IT support team (whether in-house or outsourced), is available to tackle the tech support requests that will arise from your home-based users.
If your support team is based outside of China, consider hiring outsourced bilingual resources based in China during this period.
If your employees are using their private WeChat accounts for work (and not WeChat work or DingTalk or Lark or WeLink), make sure your legal team prepares some guidance on what they can or cannot share. This can be troublesome if there are no clear procedures.
But please talk to a lawyer for more professional legal advice.
We have seen too many companies losing important data because everyone had access to everything with private accounts.
And get a backup!
The above is meant as a checklist for small and medium businesses operating in China to assess their current status and handle the remote work wave with a more proactive attitude.
There are other alternatives that can work within various budgets and allow for efficiency and efficacy during this situation.
Most of these tools are here to stay, so this can be also a guideline for the future IT infrastructure plans of the businesses operating in China.
If you want to:
- Upgrade or move your business tools to these cloud solutions in China
- Setup a business continuity plan
- Upgrade your IT infrastructure
- Setup backup plans
- Improve connectivity within your China offices or with your global offices