The COVID-19 pandemic that spread across the country at the beginning of 2020 has posed great challenges for businesses of all kinds and the society at large. Cities that used to be hustling and bustling were suddenly brought to a halt.
During the pandemic, Alibaba’s technical teams were working in various fronts to help contain the virus . By working closely with the local communities, businesses and health organizations, we hope that our technologies can make a difference in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the meantime, we need to ensure our colleagues were working in a safe yet efficient environment. I am proud of our scientists and engineers at Alibaba, who had been committed to tackling the challenges along the way and continuing with our day-to-day operation with minimal impacts.
— Lusu, CTO of Alibaba Group
The following is an excerpt from Lusu’s internal memo to Alibaba’s technology teams to encourage them to keep up with their daily work even during the pandemic.
Dear Alibaba colleagues ,
When the spread of the virus started to slow down in March in China, I finally got to come back and see you all again. I would like to take this opportunity to express my sincere appreciation for your hard work during this challenging period of time. I also want to share my experience and thoughts from while I was working from home over the past month.
1. Combat the pandemic altogether
On the eve of Chinese Lunar New Year, I got the feeling that the pandemic situation was getting worse. I decided to cancel my family trip the next day. I was right. On the next day I received a phone call from Judy, Chief People Officer of Alibaba, who invited me to join a special work group that aimed to tackle various challenges imposed by the pandemic. The first major task that I needed to handle, was leveraging our technology tools to ensure the safety of our colleagues and the business normality during the pandemic period of time.
I would say almost all business units in Alibaba Group have committed to the fight against the pandemic with an unprecedented level of resource investment. It is a fight that the whole Alibaba Group is all in.
First of all, we worked with the HR and administrative teams to build a robust and efficient remote working system to ensure our colleagues’ health as a top priority.
We quickly came up with solutions that allow some colleagues to come back to the office by batches while others remain working from home to maintain appropriate social distancing at the workplace. Different teams conducted daily meetings to review the overall working situation to ensure we were working in a safe and healthy yet efficient environment. .
2. Learn to improve meeting efficiency while planning business and strategies
The outbreak happened just after I took on the role as the CTO of Alibaba Group. For the next couple of months, the most important thing for me was to map out our technology strategies for the new world and fiscal year.
With audio and video conferences supported by DingTalk (the enterprise communications platform developed by Alibaba) while we were working from home, our daily work tasks were barely impacted by the pandemic. For the following two weeks since mid-February, we held nearly 40 online meetings internally to discuss our business and technology strategies without any technology hiccup.
To many people’s surprise, meetings hosted through DingTalk were even more efficient than many offline meetings I had attended.
The presenter could go on without interruption, and the attendees would give feedback one by one after the speech. All the feedback was delivered in a well thought-through and organized manner. After the meeting, action items with roles and responsibilities would be sent to each working group and all attendees would be notified.
With online meetings becoming the new normal, I hope that we can keep up with the efficiency on meetings even beyond the pandemic period of time.
3. How efficient was the remote-work system?
We have never experienced remote working on such a large scale. At first, we all wondered to what extent remote working would affect our efficiency.
We carried out surveys internally to understand the work-from-home productivity and found a surprising result. When it comes to coding, testing and demand analysis, we actually saw the increase of efficiency rather than the other way around.
That actually reflects the responsibility and competence of our technical colleagues and the robustness of our engineering platform based on years’ technology accumulation.
When we look back a couple years later, I think we will not only remember some historic milestones, but also the small progresses that we have achieved along the way.