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‘To be honest, looking back now, it all seems like a movie, but it happened in the real world,’ Jade, General Manager at Abcam Shanghai, tells us. ‘It was the week before Chinese New Year, that everyone was suddenly talking about COVID-19. At that time, it didn’t have a unique name; we just called it The Virus. We knew cases were rising in Wuhan and were warned by experts not to travel to this region. But Chinese New Year is the busiest holiday, with the highest levels of internal travel, as people go home to their families. The government faced big challenges in asking people not to go to see their families for the most important holiday in the Chinese calendar.’
Nonetheless, the day before the public holiday for Chinese New Year, with COVID-19 cases swiftly rising, the Chinese government issued lockdown and an extension to the number of public holidays, in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus. Abcam, like other employers, complied.
Three days into lockdown, and in the middle of the holiday, Abcam China received an urgent order from an infectious disease hospital in China. As part of their rapid response to profile the new disease, the hospital needed ELISA kits to detect COVID-19-related cytokines.
‘Our team mobilized quickly to process the order that morning, with logistic team members driving to the office in the early afternoon to pick and pack the order, to get these kits on their way as soon as possible. As Chinese citizens, we followed the guidance to reduce our outdoor activities, wearing masks when we went out. While as Abcam employees, we are committed to serving life science researchers to achieve their mission faster.’
The Chinese New Year lockdown was extended first of all to February 2nd, and then indefinitely. On February 3rd, the ‘new normal’ began for Abcam China staff. Logistics teams began working split shifts in our offices, under social distancing constraints, with the majority of the team working from home. During this time, Jade said her team found Abcam ‘supporting us to work from home in this way, was invaluable’.
Abcam has continued to operate globally throughout the pandemic, responding to inquiries and shipping orders in support of scientists’ vital research. Jade says that ‘All functions within Abcam worked together to offer lots of support. Logistics and supply chain, in particular, worked to fulfill orders and ship goods to customers on time. Colleagues in new product development and manufacturing teams worked hard to speed up processes to meet demands for specific products’.
The Abcam team in China quickly adapted to life under lockdown. Abcam Marketer, John, tells us, ‘As a team, the situation forced us to think and act differently, as well as utilizing tools quickly that could improve online teamwork.’ Their ways of working and coping have subsequently inspired other members of the Abcam global team living in countries that have since entered lockdown.
‘Lockdown or social distancing restricted almost all activities that bring people together,’ said Jade. ‘To support the scientific community in learning about and discussion of this new virus, we worked rapidly to transition meetings and events to digital platforms and launched new COVID-19 digital content. Over 10,000 people registered for our online webinars.’
As a result, Abcam China expanded its use of social media channels, including increasing the use of WeChat as a service channel, to ensure customer service levels were maintained. The team developed 13 new training and COVID-19 focussed webinars between mid-February and mid-March. When extra capacity was needed to help with customer inquiries, Abcam’s team from Hong Kong, the US, and the UK stepped in to help. As other areas around the world have since gone into lockdown, these ways of working have been picked up by the global team; the US and UK teams have worked to develop new digital content regarding the SARS-CoV-2 virus and have now transitioned 44 events to digital platforms.
Although there were difficulties living in lockdown, they note the positives that came from these experiences, with Jade stating, ‘Lockdown gives you more time to spend with family, to watch your children grow and to cook,’ and John adding ‘And there was no wasting time sitting in traffic every day.’
By the start of March, the numbers of new COVID-19 cases had fallen to single-digit numbers, and our teams in Shanghai and Hangzhou began to return to the office and labs. Despite the continued social distancing measures and the need to wear masks indoors, the Abcam China team is enjoying the transition back to a more normal life, with nearly 350 team members now back in the office and our manufacturing production almost up to full strength.
Reflecting on how the team in Abcam China has dealt with COVID-19, Jade told us, ‘The whole company has worked together to back the China team, supporting our families and customers. After witnessing how Abcam has responded over the past two months, it has confirmed that I made the right decision to join Abcam six years ago. I feel lucky to work for such an accountable company.’