Voices

China: Returning to a new reality

Pete Lin, North Asia Regional Managing Director at We Are Social China writes from a country slowly emerging from lockdown and takes a look at what lies ahead for countries attempting to navigate the same.

Pete Lin, We Are Social China

North Asia Regional Managing Director & Co-Founder

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There was no one in the office. It was my first day out of a 14-day quarantine period, and I was eager to see my colleagues in person, IRL. But there was no one around. The door was unlocked. There was a fresh pot of coffee in the kitchenette. Hashtag, the office cat, was meandering through a row of empty seats. 

“Hey boss! Good to see you back!” The cleaning lady said, poking her head into my office. “I’ve made a fresh pot of coffee.” Seeing our cleaning lady all of a sudden jarred my memory. This was the norm. This was my usual morning routine. I would always be the second person in the office, after the cleaning lady. She would always have had a fresh pot of coffee made, waiting for me.

Soon, my colleagues started arriving, one after another. Chatter began, and Hashtag went about his daily routine, randomly chasing after people. Someone stepped into my office for a chat. It felt like a typical workday had started. 

This is post-lockdown reality. We’re back in the office, but still adjusting. And of course, the impact has been bigger than my morning twilight zone experiences. It’s been tough, but we are now seeing more positivity, and more hope. For those at different stages of lockdown, here’s a brief rundown of what might be lying ahead of you. 

Online work collaboration, remote and in the office, has become more familiar to people and is becoming a regular part of our work habits.

Pete Lin

New kind of office environment 

We’ve had to adjust the way we gather; our main meeting room isn’t large and squeezing more than a couple of people in violates social distancing rules. So, even though we’re in the office, we still do some internal meetings via video calls. Online work collaboration, remote and in the office, has become more familiar to people and is becoming a regular part of our work habits. 

Mask use is also mandatory when you’re close to other people. We’re more comfortable with wearing masks in China than many other countries, but it’s still taking some getting used to. It’s strange not being able to rely on reading other people’s expressions to judge what they’re feeling, especially if you crack a joke and can’t be sure if anyone actually liked it. 

Cautious return of client confidence 

When the pandemic first hit, many clients pulled campaigns or changed direction. This has been true world over. We were also hit by the postponement of the Olympics. However, in the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen a cautious but positive move towards the return of client confidence. We’ve won five pitches since the end of the lockdown, three over Tencent Video Conference and two in person. The briefs are noticeably coming back across the industry and as a social agency, we’re fortunately well placed to pick up the type of work that’s currently in demand. 

Many of the behaviours that emerged in lockdown are still with us, whether out of necessity or choice.

Pete Lin

Different consumer landscape 

It’s fair to say that we’ve had to tear up the rule book when it comes to ‘usual’ consumer behaviours. Many of the behaviours that emerged in lockdown are still with us, whether out of necessity or choice. People’s activities, from shopping to entertainment or work, have mostly moved online and at the moment, the majority of them remain there. The frequency of occurrence for things that people used to do, such as hailing a ride-share from Didi or flying to other cities for business, are still reduced to the bare minimum. Therefore, many sectors of the Chinese economy are still waiting for consumer behaviours to return to their pre-coronavirus normality. But we are all doing the best with what we have regained thus far, and all the while trying to stay healthy and stay safe.

It’s been energising and inspiring to be physically near my colleagues after weeks of seeing them only through video conference, or, worse yet, audio-only conference calls. I look forward to seeing more moments of hope and positivity in the days, weeks and months ahead. 

Guest Author

Pete Lin, We Are Social China

North Asia Regional Managing Director & Co-Founder,

About

Pete Lin has been in the advertising industry for over two decades. He currently oversees the North Asia region for We Are Social and is responsible for more than 110 employees across four offices: Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, and Tokyo. His regional client roster includes Acer, Beats, Hilton, and vivo. Pete has been working in the APAC region since 2007. Before joining We Are Social, he had led digital departments at JWT and Grey, and had spent three years running his own boutique agency. Pete is one of the few people on Earth with two MBAs: one from Columbia Business School and another from Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley. If you're curious about this, he would be more than happy to tell you the story.