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As work resumes in outbreak, brand-new 'normal' emerges

By Cao Zinan and Li Danqing | | Updated: 2020-03-01 06:30
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If you saw only a handful of people sitting in a canteen, all separated by more than a meter and under observation by monitors, with talking strictly prohibited, you might think they were taking the college entrance examination, or gaokao.

But in fact, they are just normal employees having a meal on an ordinary workday.

"If one of them carries a bag of zhacai, or pickled mustard stems, does it mean he cheated on the 'exam'?" joked some netizens in posts on the internet about this situation.

As many cities have resumed work across China, people are facing some brand-new ways of working amid the novel coronavirus outbreak.

For example, dining times have been staggered to avoid peak periods. Quite a few companies, including Haier, check the temperatures of their staff, and encourage employees to bring their own cutlery.

In many cities, authorities have called for flexible office hours and staggered shifts, to help staff members avoid busy public transportation times and peak commuting hours.

Even in the offices of many companies, employees are required to sit more than a meter apart. "The atmosphere is so solemn, like an exam. I don't know if peeking at my colleague's computer screen means 'cheating'," an internet user said.

And some employees may have the chance to play a live version of a tic-tac-toe game in the elevator. Elevators in many companies have been divided on the floor into separated zones, in which only one person can stand.

The most popular employee perk of recent has to be heating pads. Businesses have had to turn off the air-conditioning and fresh air systems due to the epidemic, so these little packets of warmth have become indispensable.

However, the true trendsetters are those who work from home. They've made it fashionable to work in pajamas, even with unwashed hair and faces at times. And they're living proof you don't need a suit and tie to excel at your job.

Meanwhile, teachers and professors who work from home have found themselves forced to take on a new role, as "network anchors" doing live broadcasts every day. "Chinese teachers are so versatile!" a student said.

The smart economy is also booming in China, as intelligent robots have begun shouldering major responsibilities in diverse industries, such as auto manufacturing.

As spring ploughing arrives, farmers in many provinces across the country are also required to "take exams" on the field, standing more than 1 meter apart.

Changes in the ordinary state of affairs are necessary for as long as the epidemic continues. But these measures strike a balance between virus prevention and productivity, potentially charting a new course for the Chinese workplace.

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