For thousands of white-collar workers in Shanghai (and, indeed, many of their factory-worker peers), living at the office is becoming a twisted reflection of the 'work-from-home' trend that has exploded in the wake of the pandemic.
We first reported late last month that traders and analysts with Shanghai's big financial firms (it is, after all, China's de facto financial capital) were being pressured to move into their offices to ride out what was supposed to be a brief, 9-day staggered lockdown. Well, as of Monday, local authorities have extended the lockdown indefinitely, which could create serious problems for these workers, many of whom have already spent two or three weeks essentially living at the office.
A report in WSJ recounting their plight offers a chilling picture of the situation: many of these workers have brought bedding and pillows from home.
Zheng Xiangru, an employee at Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, one of China’s largest state-owned banks, said he had already spent more than two weeks cooped up in an office.
Mr. Zheng says he must be physically present to settle transactions using the bank’s internal systems, adding that he volunteered for the assignment and would receive extra compensation in return. The 28-year-old account manager sleeps on a foldable bed and drapes a sleeping bag over his body.
To make conditions more tolerable, he brought along a small blue blanket and a pillow from home. He blasts rock and rap music after work as a stress-reliever - "because it’s loud," he said.
To be sure, most of the workers who spoke with WSJ for its report said they were being compensated for the inconvenience of living at the office. They also described blasting loud music and having long post-work conversations with colleagues as part of their efforts to cope. Workers who are living at the office often sleep in their cubicles, while eating meals prepared by the company's communal kitchen.
However, as the days turned to weeks, workers have found it more difficult to keep up with basic hygiene tasks like their skin-care routines - while also being deprived of clean clothes, now that the lockdown conditions have been tightened.
Levels of preparation vary between companies. For example, the Shanghai Futures Exchange set up rows of temporary beds to allow workers to keep the trades flowing.
While workers initially described scenes of excitement and adventure, as colleagues took photos to post on social media, this initial buzz has since faded for many as they confront the inherent awkwardness of the situation.
Interactions like brushing one's teeth next to their boss have become commonplace.
Yan Yuejin, a property analyst in Shanghai, found himself unexpectedly sequestered with his colleagues in the office early last month after authorities found positive cases in the vicinity. More than 2,000 staff working in three buildings in the area were shut indoors for seven days and tested frequently, he said.
"When it gets to 8:00 and 9:00 at night, people start changing into slippers and pajamas. The next thing you know, you are brushing your teeth next to your boss. It’s so awkward," the 38-year-old said.
Others have begun to tire of certain colleagues' annoying habits - like loud snorers, for example. But as companies dole out 'care packages' with hygiene products and other necessities, many workers have found themselves asking: how much longer can this continue?