How SSOs are managing the coronavirus pandemic

“Jiayou, Wuhan!”

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Barbara Hodge

How does the world come to grips with an invisible threat? While globally Shared Services Organizations have long been prepping cyber security and have taken steps to protect themselves against digital virus attacks, it’s a virus of a completely different kind that has been creating havoc in China.

Only a few weeks into the health crisis instigated by the coronavirus, residents and businesses across China have found themselves impacted as a result of concerns that the pandemic is spreading fast. Governments have enforced closures, the streets, bus stations and airports are empty, and working from home is no longer a privilege, but a necessity.


SSON Analytics launches new 'Global Health Security' (GHS) Index in the Citycube

The GHS Index is a comprehensive assessment and benchmark of health security and related capabilities across 195 countries.

Indices assess each country’s capacity to prevent, detect and rapidly respond to epidemic threats with international implication; and the efficacy of their health systems, commitment to global norms, and the political, socioeconomic and environmental risk factors that can limit response.

Find out how to access the data here.


The fear of contracting the virus has kept people away from public areas. That includes offices. It’s instigated what Fortune magazine has called "the largest work-from-home experiment” in the world. Many offices are quickly moving meetings onto video chat apps, or leveraging WeChat Work’s collaborative platform.

By contrast, work sharing spaces are empty, and WeWork just announced it was temporarily closing 25 of its 115 shared offices in China. 

In addition, some countries have evacuated their citizens (there are close to a million foreigners living in China), re-enforcing panic as people clamor to book scarce flights out. Quarantine protocols are in place, impacting both public and private operations, for example schools and universities – although robust planning and preparedness means teaching has simply moved online via platforms like Moodle, which allows modules to be uploaded and supports live chat. “We’ve been planning for this eventuality,” a professor commented on LinkedIn. Schools that found themselves caught out are catching up quickly.

SSON Analytics data lists more than 400 delivery centers in China (the majority captive) of which 12 are in Wuhan. With employee safely the primary concern, Shared Services have been operating where and how they can to maintain business continuity.


Source: SSON Analytics, Shared Services Atlas

Certainly, their disaster recovery plans are being tested. Practitioners have told me that the timing of the outbreak (emerging just over the New Year) meant that many staff had left their PCs and laptops at the office over the holiday period and could not retrieve them – thus making it harder to seamlessly transition to working from home.

Government guidelines have determined that offices should remain closed until at least next week (February 17). With staff effectively homebound, it’s been difficult to maintain the ISP bandwidth to support business operations one Shared Services leader told me. “We are mitigating where we can but it’s a tough period,” he explained. Some processes have temporarily been halted – others continue, supported from home. "Customers and vendors are being very understanding, as everyone is in the same boat," he added.

Another GBS leader with responsibility for China confirms business continuity was maintained by switching work to other centers in Asia or Europe. “The month was closed well, despite these challenges,” she said.

Read also: 5 Trends Defining Shared Services in China

Whether we see the light at the end of the tunnel yet is uncertain. However, the number of new cases emerging each day has stabilized, according to the World Health Organization.

Concerns are not limited to China, of course. Across the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore etc., the pandemic has heightened concerns around illness spreading in offices and the availability of the human factor is suddenly not assured. One Asian company I spoke to, with significant back office presence in China, has seen their operations so severely impacted that they are reconsidering alternative locations, including a strategy that would leverage English-speaking BPO work offshore to supplement work they would like to move back to their home country. 


Compacting the difficulties of ensuring business continuity is the fact that many multinational airlines have canceled flights to and from China. The impact of these challenges on world economic markets is already making itself felt. China’s position as a leading manufacturer and trading partner means no country and no business is entirely unaffected. 


So, how do we prepare for the invisible threat of a pandemic? The Global Health Security (GHS) Index is a comprehensive assessment of the capacity of 195 countries to address health security risks ranging from the flu to threats unleashed by humans (i.e. biological warfare). It provides insights on global and country-level capacity to address the coronavirus outbreak, as well as any future events. It’s overall finding is that "national health security is fundamentally weak around the world. No country is fully prepared for epidemics or pandemics, and every country has important gaps to address.”

Gaps are notable not just in countries' abilities to prevent as well as respond to health emergencies, but also in identifying political and environmental risks that prevent preparedness and responses to epidemics. Fewer than 7% of countries, in fact, scored in the highest tier for preventing the emergence of a pandemic. Only 19% of countries achieved top marks for detection and reporting. China scored 48.2 on an index marked out of 100.

Source: GHS Index, October 2019

“Jiayou, Wuhan!”


Note: For an up to date data visual report on the spread and impact of the coronavirus, see Johns Hopkins CSSE.