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Working and living through the C-19 outbreak: learning from colleagues in China

Working and living through the C-19 outbreak: learning from colleagues in China

08 April 2020

Weizhen Li works in Shanghai, which was OUP’s first office to be affected by the coronavirus outbreak at the very start of 2020. Weizhen shares her experience of office closure, the challenges of working from home, and what it feels like to begin the journey back towards normality.

“I work in OUP’s Mainland China (MLC) office in Shanghai, where I look after public affairs and communications. A lot has happened over the past four months, but working with a brilliant team of colleagues both here in China and across OUP has made my days really cheerful even now when so many of us around the world are working from home because of the C-19 situation.

A non-traditional New Year

The C-19 outbreak began in China in mid-late January, just when everybody was wrapping up their work to get ready for the Chinese New Year. The pandemic brought everything to an abrupt halt and denied us from gathering together to celebrate with our loved ones. This was supposed to be the holiday for families and friends, but instead we found ourselves riding emotional rollercoasters -   every day tuning in to news about C-19 and finding ourselves in a ‘home arrest’ situation.

To get the C-19 situation in control, back in early February, we had to take a longer public holiday as per government requirement. Without any planning for this prolonged holiday and stranded at home, I tried to adapt to it with lots of reading and movies, and thanks to the existence of social media, sharing good and bad news each day with friends.

When work kicks in

Unlike in other offices, where people had some warning and time to prepare for working from home, we had to start unexpectedly right after holiday. So in the beginning there were quite some challenges - technology issues with work devices; accessibility to shared resources; or even just figuring out how to get one’s laptop and work materials from the office to home!

In the beginning, at least for me, it was difficult to have a well-balanced schedule between work and chores and it was easy to get carried away with work and miss meals, or the laundry. What proved to be helpful on those days was having regular virtual catch ups with team members working on the same project, in which we could support each other just as we used to in the office and minimize the sense of being left alone. We helped each other form new routines and spoke honestly to truly support each other through the difficulties we were all going through. Staying connected is always important no matter what!

I also found working from home a rare opportunity to pick up on self-learning and finding the time to reflect on work and life by oneself, as well as with colleagues. Across the MLC office we have been inspiring each other in many ways. This has included sharing weekly team updates of how we have been responding to the challenges posed by C-19, organizing online discussion sessions on products and services, plus the Office Management team members have been taking it in turns to share their thoughts and encouragement with all staff in writing and via catch-up calls. In some ways, working apart brought us closer together.

Getting ready for the ‘new normal’

When I first started social-distancing and working from home, I could count the days spent at home. But gradually I lost count and found that I had adapted and could just get on with this new set up. I know that in China we are ahead of many places across the world in dealing with C-19. Slowly the situation here is improving. We are now taking turns to go to the office on weekdays, so I get to meet at least a small number of colleagues in person, and that feels wonderful!

For many, now may seem to be full of uncertainties with further changes and new challenges arising every day, which I can relate to. However, as time goes by, adjusting does become easier and you might even find you have new thoughts or ideas that will help you with preparing for what might come next at work and in life more widely too.”