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Coronavirus Is Making Life Hell for China’s Tech Workers

An industry already notorious for long hours and overtime now expects employees to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Alvin Foo, managing director of Reprise Digital, center, during a meeting with staff at the company’s office in Shanghai on March 9.

Alvin Foo, managing director of Reprise Digital, center, during a meeting with staff at the company’s office in Shanghai on March 9.

Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg
Updated on

A relentless office schedule dubbed “996”—9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week, plus overtime—has long been a burdensome reality for China’s tech workers. With the new coronavirus outbreak forcing hundreds of thousands of the sector’s employees to log in remotely, they’re discovering that working from home can be even worse.

Instead of bringing employees greater freedom, telecommuting means professional life is encroaching even more on private life, as bosses subject workers to hourslong conference calls, regular check-ins to ensure they’re not slacking off, and expectations that they’ll be available 24/7. Compounding the problem are unstable virtual office tools that frustrate smooth communication, stymieing productivity and deepening the sense of seclusion.