wechat_bg

2022-02-15 12:08:07

China’s largest online travel platform, Trip.com, has argued that Chinese companies should be more open to remote work, as it moves to allow all staff to stay home two days a week following a sixth-month trial.

In pursuit of a more liberal approach to staff management, the company in 2021 conducted a large-scale “hybrid work” trial, which included over 1,600 participants. The results showed unaffected productivity and a decrease in labor turnover rates, the company said. Among the respondents, 93% felt they used their time more efficiently, and over 75% reported feeling an improvement in their wellness. Employees liked the system: support rose from 81.2% to 87.4% after the trial.

Managers, too, were happy with the arrangement, with 76% saying they hadn’t seen adverse effects on productivity.

From March, most employees at Trip.com Group will be allowed to work remotely on Wednesdays and Fridays, “either from home, or in a coffee shop, or a holiday hotel,” with the approval of their supervisors, it announced Tuesday.

It’s a step toward giving employees autonomy in an industry known for intense supervision. With COVID-19 mostly under control, China has missed out on the global shift to remote work. Chinese tech companies are known for requiring long hours in the office, often demanding staff use a GPS-enabled app to sign in. At e-commerce giant Alibaba, employees have complained of being fined 100 yuan ($15.7) for each minute they’re late. Other major tech firms have reportedly installed timers on toilets to limit bathroom breaks or smart cushions to monitor if employees are in their seats.

The biggest tech firms have been reining in the most extreme forms of overtime during the past year, in the face of a backlash against “996” culture — working 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week. Alibaba previously introduced one day a week remote work in December last year.

The company previously conducted a similar trial in 2010, which showed benefits to productivity and staff retention, but didn’t implement the system at the time.

Trip.com founder and chairman James Liang said in the news release on Tuesday that hybrid work can also benefit society by “reducing traffic congestion, alleviating high housing prices and regional disparities, and contributing to families, female career development, and higher fertility rates.” Liang, who is also a professor at Peking University’s School of Economics, has become known for his outspoken views on China's demography in recent years. He frequently advocates ideas to address China’s aging population and low birth rates.

The survey also asked participants about a number of possible downsides to working from home before and after the experiment. Just over half complained that they worked longer hours at home than they would at the office, reflecting a side effect of remote work also found in international studies. Initial concerns among respondents about disadvantages such as unstable internet, a distracting environment, and communication barriers all decreased after the six month trial.

Staff suspect that some managers won’t accept the practice, according to online conversations. On microblogging platform Weibo, one self-identified Trip.com employee said their department head is not planning to accept applications to work from home.

“It’s not all departments. If department heads do not agree, we still have to come to the office five days a week,” another user wrote.

Editor: David Cohen.

(Header image: Employees walk through the reception area at the Trip.com Group Ltd. headquarters in Shanghai, Feb. 4, 2021. Shen Qilai Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images/People Visual))