A frontline Internet employee’s account: reduce the spread of the epidemic through technology

In face of the epidemic, Internet companies are adopting technological means to more effectively prevent epidemics at the workplace.

Photo by Christopher Gower on Unsplash

Photo by Christopher Gower on Unsplash

Narrator: Xiao Zhong

By XIAO Fang


Because of the coronavirus outbreak, most Internet companies have adopted remote offices after the Spring Festival. However, this doesn’t mean that they can be lax about epidemic prevention and control within the company.

There are employees ranging from thousands to tens of thousands in these large Internet companies. Real-time knowledge about each employee’s schedule and health condition is the key to assessing when they can return to work in the company. How to reduce the congregation of personnel and reduce the outbreak of epidemic after their returning is even more crucial. Some Internet companies are conducting more effective intra-company epidemic prevention through technical means.

Xiao Zhong is an employee of the Information System Department of Sina, a major Chinese online and mobile media service provider, responsible for the company’s telecommuting and other information-related project management and product management.

During the SARS of 2003, he was working in the Information Department of Sina and also participated in the company’s epidemic prevention project. In mid-January, news of the epidemic emerged. The Information System Department he is in and the company’s administrative department started to consider how to ensure the safety of all the employees. For example, they have planned the development of online ordering applications, reducing the congregation of colleagues when they return to work.

With the escalation of epidemic prevention and control, more epidemic prevention tasks should be carried out. He and colleagues from his department, as well as colleagues from administrative and human resources departments, turned epidemic prevention tasks into light applications on telecommuting OAs.

Xiao Zhong told Jiemian News that the Information System Department hopes to reduce the epidemic prevention pressure of colleagues in the human resources department and the administrative department to the greatest extent through technical means.


Follows is the account of Xiao Zhong:


During the SARS of 2003, I was working in the Information System Department of Sina. At that time, we had been working from home for more than a month.

During the SARS period, my main duty was to take many offline processes online, so that employees of Sina can remotely connect to business systems such as the company’s CRM system through a VPN, minimizing the impact of SARS on the business.

In mid-January this year, I heard of the epidemic in Wuhan. Having experienced SARS, I was more sensitive to information related to epidemics and I believed that something should be done to prevent the epidemic at the workplace. Soon, the company also paid attention to the epidemic, and it was so close to the Spring Festival holiday. Everyone must respond quickly, and our epidemic prevention work kicked off.

Colleagues in related departments communicated what needs to be done during the epidemic prevention and control. Conventionally, many colleagues need to work from home after the holiday and the company has already equipped with VPN and online meeting applications. Usually employees hardly use these applications for they normally work in the office, so these applications need to be upgraded and expanded immediately, which is relatively easy to complete.

Before the Spring Festival, there were thousands of employees dining in the canteen every day, but after the epidemic, the risk of gathering was high. I brainstormed with other colleagues and thought of reducing the congregation by increasing online ordering and contactless delivery. The idea was reported to the company’s senior managers and was quickly approved. The company also took online ordering as a key project for epidemic prevention and control.

The reason why we come up with this method is that the canteen of Sina has been digitalized and intelligentialized before. Employees can see the daily menu and the crowdedness of the canteen, and they can also recharge their meal card through the OA application. The online ordering system can be transformed based on this.

Before the Spring Festival, we set a plan for research and development. I returned to my hometown in Fujian during the festival, and many colleagues also returned to their hometowns. Still, everyone maintained normal working status and we always open immediate online meetings when there are projects needed to be communicated. This is the busiest Spring Festival we have ever had. Although the Spring Festival holiday was extended, I did not stay at my hometown and returned to Beijing on January 31. Later, we started the transformation of the online ordering system.

As the number of confirmed diagnoses keeps rising, the company’s prevention and control measures continue to escalate. I sensed the tension of such a severe epidemic situation. It is incredible if someone is still not afraid.

The human resources department and administrative department are crucial for epidemic prevention and control. Colleagues in these departments have a stronger sense of urgency. They must consider more about the company’s safety and have the knowledge about the schedule and health condition of each colleague.

After the Spring Festival, the epidemic situation was constantly changing, so the human resources department and the administrative department put forward many urgent demands, and time for researching and developing left to us is only one or two days. On February 3, Sina and Weibo resumed work by telecommuting, and our work pace became faster.

The whole Information System Department have to develop a meal ordering system step by step; and meanwhile, we have to meet the increasing demand for epidemic prevention from other departments.

Urgent needs must be met first. I have many online meetings in chatting groups every day to discuss possible solutions with colleagues in other departments. After the discussion, I have to work overtime for research and development. Recently, my colleagues have stayed up for many nights.

The administrative department has taken stricter management measures, and we had a discussion on how to implement them more conveniently. For example, the administrative department has to control the access to the office building of Sina, so the pedestrian passage and vehicle passage on the north side of the building are temporarily closed. All personnel and vehicles should enter through the west gate, and people whose temperature exceeds 37.2 degrees cannot enter.

Moreover, since the staff of the headquarter can only enter through one entrance, if the security staff must check the body temperature at the entrance, people will inevitably gather together, which is not conducive to epidemic prevention. We have developed a new application for office pass that indicates the employee’s name and health condition. Employees can show to security guards from far away, reducing close contact.

On February 5, I went to the company for the first time after the Spring Festival. There was almost no traffic from Wanquanhe Expressway to the company. Usually, there were congestions at Wanquanhe Bridge and Xiaojiahe Bridge, and traffic jam of 10 minutes to half an hour is common. However, it only took me 20 minutes to arrive at the company, and there was basically no one around the office building of Sina. I was a little nervous about going out, but I was relieved when I saw the emptiness.

I wore a mask and saw that my colleagues in the administrative department had prepared tissue for everyone when pressing the elevator. There were hardly a few people in the company, only those who were on duty, and they all wore masks. The outbreak of the epidemic made the company so different.

I came to the company to verify whether the ordering and settlement equipment on each floor of the online ordering system is effective. This is the final stage before the implementation of the online ordering system.

Under normal circumstances, there are forty to fifty kinds of dishes in our canteen. During the epidemic, the lunch and dinner have been simplified. Each catering provider only offer four sets of meals, and the menus are rotated from Monday to Friday.

At present, too many people gathering in the canteen is inappropriate. We have optimized the ordering process according to the needs of the administrative department. There are five floors of office zones in the company, and the catering provider will prepare and deliver meals to each floor. The staff on the corresponding floor order a set of meal in the system one day in advance so that the supplier will be able to prepare according to the predetermined amount and send the sets to designated meal pick-up points on each floor in different time periods to minimize personnel contact.

Meal pick-up points are set in relatively empty spaces. Apart from refrigerators and microwaves, instant hand sanitizers are also provided. There are about several hundred employees working on each floor. We have set up four meal pick-up points and multiple pick-up times. Every 45 minutes, the supplier packed the four kinds of sets separately for contactless delivery. This can minimize the congregation of employees and they can also dine nearby.

From February 10 to 14, the company arranged for self-driving employees who did not leave Beijing during the Spring Festival to be on duty at the headquarters, and the remaining employees continued to work remotely from home.

The online ordering system has also entered the testing phase from this week. According to the background data, the use in the trial operation phase is relatively smooth. After that, there should be basically no problem on a larger scale.

The online ordering system took a long time in our department’s epidemic prevention and control related projects, which is basically over, but our epidemic prevention and control project is far from over.

Before my talk with you, I was added into another conference group, and I am going to discuss the development of new applications. Although I have been working from home during this period, I cannot be lax. Everyone in the team has specific tasks and must do a little more than usual.

I don't think working from home will be less efficient than working in the office.

At present, the company schedules the timetable to February 21, and all employees on duty will be distributed masks for free, still, no formal notice has been given when all employees should return to the company.

Colleagues from the administrative department have issued guidelines for epidemic prevention of buildings, explaining the adjustment of buildings, shuttle bus disinfection, and air-conditioning return air, and they will adjust the guidelines at any time according to the development of the epidemic. During this period, the departments responsible for the company’s epidemic prevention and control are going through a hard time. But only when we pay a little more can other colleagues be more assured when they return to work.