Keeping connected during COVID-19

People around the world are facing up to unprecedented changes to their lives caused by the coronavirus pandemic. HSBC employees in mainland China explain how they adapted to the crisis earlier this year – and how they supported their customers, communities and each other.

The news broke on a grey morning in late January. Wuhan, the capital of the central Chinese province of Hubei and the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak, would be locked down in a few hours as authorities raced to contain the virus.

HSBC branch manager Iris Li and deputy manager Jing Yue knew there was no time to waste.

“The first thing that came to my mind was how this would affect our customers and our colleagues,” said Iris. “We immediately worked out a plan to make sure we could send colleagues home safely while continuing to provide necessary services to our customers.”

By 9.30 am they had activated the business continuity plan – just 30 minutes before employees had to end all face-to-face contact with customers at the bank’s three outlets in the city.

Iris and Jing closed up at 10 am and headed straight home to log in remotely.

From there they led their team, a total of 114 people across the three outlets, to ensure that their customers would still get the support they needed. This included proactively phoning clients – many of whom were manufacturers in Hubei – to let them know about relief measures the bank was putting in place and help develop financial solutions in response to their needs.

As well as looking after their business and personal banking customers, Iris and Jing felt a duty of care for the health and safety of their workmates as the crisis unfolded.

My first task of each day was checking in on colleagues

“My first task of each day was checking in on colleagues and their health,” said Jing.

Iris added: “Many of our branch colleagues were emotionally affected by the coronavirus outbreak, so we invited a psychologist to host an online counselling session for them.”

Like many residents in Wuhan, they were also keen to do what they could for their city. For example, Iris arranged for a favourite restaurant to deliver meals for medical workers who were staying in a hotel, away from their families.

Jing added: “It had been an extremely challenging time for everyone in the city. Helping others was actually a good way to overcome the difficulties brought by the quarantine.

“So staying connected and supporting each other were key for us to get through the difficult time as a team.”

The app to keep colleagues updated

The quick-thinking actions of the two branch managers helped ensure that they could continue to serve their customers remotely. It’s a picture echoed by teams across HSBC in mainland China, and now also in many other parts of the world, who have had to adapt rapidly to new ways of working.

Technology has had a key role to play, whether it’s by helping people conduct client meetings via video conferencing or enabling thousands of colleagues around the world to work from home.

Sometimes it means developing new technical solutions. That’s what one group of employees from HSBC Technology China did when a call went out for volunteers to build an app that would provide COVID-19 updates to employees – and also allow employees to give updates about their own health.

Within 48 hours, five teams had pitched ideas. The chosen mobile app, Zhi Liao, was developed and made available to 5,000 employees within 10 days, and to another 20,000 within the next few weeks.

Gary Lee, Head of HSBC Technology China, added: “This was not a competition; this was teamwork to support HSBC and our colleagues who are self-quarantined, or working from home across mainland China, to stay in touch during this unprecedented situation.”

“My team’s support kept me going”

Staying in touch was especially important for those who found themselves isolated in quarantine away from their own home.

That was the experience of Emmy Yuan, a Consultant Specialist at HSBC Technology Centre in Xi’an. At 11 pm on 11 February she and her husband received a call to say they’d had contact with the family of a patient with COVID-19, so an ambulance was coming to take them to hospital for medical observation immediately.

Everything happened so quickly that Emmy and her husband were unprepared, so she decided to message HSBC for help.

Early the next day, senior leaders from Emmy’s work got in touch to say they were arranging emergency support for her. At noon, she received a call from her team leader, Jay.

“Through the window I saw him waving to me from outside the quarantine area, his arms full of supplies. I was so touched. I’d never expected him to come in person.

“He’d brought a box of masks, a bag of gloves and some bread, as well as a bag of apples, which are associated with the word ‘safe’ in Chinese. I was able to pull myself together after that, knowing how much everyone cared.”

With the help of her team, Emmy was able to carry on working from the hospital through the 14 days in quarantine – before she and her husband were able to go home safely.

“My colleagues checked in on me every day and asked if I needed anything. That connection helped me get through this difficult period.”