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At Flex we strive to create the extraordinary. This is about more than creating extraordinary products, it is also about the extraordinary actions of our employees. During the coronavirus pandemic, we are working to keep essential business going while also protecting our employees. Behind these efforts are personal stories. Stories of fear, challenges, dedication and successes as our employees deal with the impact of the COVID-19 crisis.
This is Carter Wan’s story. It’s his account of how he and the emergency response team at our Zhuhai campus in China helped keep employees safe when the factory reopened.
This article first appeared in the Zhuhai Special Zone Daily and is being used with permission. It has been translated and edited for clarity.
Pandemic, a sudden and personal shock
I have worked at the Flex Zhuhai campus in China for the past 15 years. On January 18 this year I took a high-speed train from Zhuhai to my hometown in Jingzhou, as I always do for each Spring Festival (Chinese New Year). I transited at Wuhan for an hour.
Back at Jingzhou, I was made aware of an unknown virus which was causing pneumonia in Wuhan, but I did not give it much thought, since I thought it did not involve human transmission.
So, I happily went about shopping and attending Spring Festival celebrations. It was only when Zhong Nanshan, a health care expert, confirmed in a video clip that the virus could be transmitted via humans that everyone took notice and started panic shopping. Face masks at pharmacies were sold out in a day. We resorted to purchasing these items online and sending them to relatives and friends.
Reservations for our annual family Chinese New Year reunion feast had to be cancelled, and we lost our booking deposit. Our family elders blamed the younger ones for taking such “harsh” actions. By January 23, Wuhan was in lockdown, followed by Jingzhou on January 25. Our cities became quiet. We were quarantined at home, with daily necessities purchased for us by designated community officials.
Despite thorough disinfection of residential homes, the number of confirmed cases continued to rise daily. We remained indoors, fearing for our health and lives. My biggest fear was that since I had passed through Wuhan during my travel home, I may have gotten infected and would infect my family members, especially my young daughter. These thoughts kept me mentally tortured during the entire observation period.
Emergency response planning from home
As the pandemic spread, the Flex Zhuhai campus established an emergency response team led by the campus’ general manager, Bill Lee. In daily meetings, our cross-functional team discussed employee health and safety and emergency plans. As a Systems Specialist in the IT department and living in one of the most severely-hit cities by COVID-19, I became one of the company’s “frontliners” in helping control the pandemic while working remotely from home.
We adhered to the guidance and directives of the municipal authorities and agencies. We came up with a series of steps for production resumption and pandemic control. These included:
- Contact tracing of everyone who returned to their hometowns during the Spring Festival
- Plant disinfections
- Temperature and identity checks at facility entrances
- Social distancing in the cafeteria
Employees who had tested positive for the virus were required to undergo stringent government checks and screenings by our human resources department before they were allowed to return to work.
Playing a bigger role while in the epicenter of the virus
Together with my IT colleagues, we realized we could play a bigger role in assisting the company during the crisis. And despite being at the epicenter of the virus in the Hubei Province, we were able to connect and work on assignments that were time sensitive and critical to the health and safety of all employees.
We developed and improved various IT solutions and applications that supported our colleagues and helped the company respond swiftly during the pandemic. One of the items we developed was a QR code that enabled Flex to locate employees who were away for the Spring Festival and those in areas hardest hit by the pandemic. The QR code was able to capture all of this information with just one click, and HR was able to export all of the data and act quickly. This was helpful, as both pieces of information had to be reported to the government.
We also modified existing employee ID cards so that we could gather critical information that was needed to update the government every day and keep workers safe. We used “remote terminals” in Flex Zhuhai’s parking areas allowing bus drivers and security personnel to verify an employees’ identity in real time – before they even boarded a bus or left their vehicle.
We did this by adding a health code function to the Flex+ cellphone app for Zhuhai. If a green code appeared, the employee was allowed to enter campus. A red code meant the employee was not allowed to enter. This additional functionality in the app helped work resume across the entire campus in a safe and healthy manner.
The lockdown was lifted and employees returned to work
On March 17, 2020, the 52-day lockdown in my hometown was lifted, and I stepped out of my house for a haircut. As we began to return to normal daily life activities – so did Flex. The Zhuhai facility worked overtime to catch up on delays caused by the pandemic. As the situation improved, we searched for ways to help all of the employees return to work. At first, the options were either to take the high-speed train (with Wuhan as a transit stop), or to fly.
At the start of the pandemic, Flex set-up a special group chat for employees living in Hubei. Using this WeChat group, Flex advised to be patient and that the company would help us return to Zhuhai.
Soon, a message came through the group chat that direct train service from Jingzhou to Zhuhai would begin running on March 24, and I would be able to return to the office. As one of the first batch of migrant workers who returned to Zhuhai from Jiangzhou, I was not required to be quarantined. So I could return to work at the campus immediately.
Our arrival in Zhuhai was welcomed by the Zhuhai Municipal Secretary Yonghang, together with our Flex Zhuhai senior leaders. It was such a wonderful surprise, and Flex made our welcome even sweeter by sending company buses to take us home. I expressed my gratitude on social media that very night to the Jingzhou and Zhuhai governments and Flex. It was reassuring to know that we were cared for by all parties throughout the pandemic outbreak.
Fighting the pandemic together
During the pandemic, I was involved in a total of 11 IT-related projects while working from my hometown. These included the expansion of our company’s VPN, data collection of returning employees from Guangxi Province, access control system for new recruits, and a system for suppliers to report their health.
I did my best to support Flex’s efforts to resume production in Zhuhai while also ensuring the health and safety of our colleagues. And although I was sitting at home in Hubei Province, it felt as though I was working side by side with my colleagues. With our global presence, there may be more locations around the world who are shut down and could benefit from the response system we developed in Zhuhai.
I look forward to sharing my experiences and the programs we developed during the pandemic with all the Flex locations. After all, we are one Flex and one family!