A couple of days into my recent trip to China, I realised I was making no progress trying to explain the point of this blog’s name, Thinking Home Business.
I spoke about this with an Australian expat friend, someone who has lived in China for several years. I wondered whether the concept of professionals working from home made any sense in the current China context. Her observation, as best as I can recall, was to the effect that with the economy booming and likely to do so for some time, there is an unrelenting demand for managers and other professionals to work in enterprises. In other words, in the office or the factory.
That made sense, even though the experience of being stuck in peak hour traffic in Beijing and again in Shanghai made me as a visitor wonder why there did not seem to be any level of interest in the concept of working from home. Lack of technology is hardly the problem – I read somewhere that China’s internet speed is much faster than is experienced in the USA. Cell phones are ubiquitous.
It’s not, as far as I could tell, that the basic concept of ‘work from home’ or ‘work at home’ is not understood (as we came through the Beijing airport terminal there was a battery of signs promoting Amway). More that there seemed to be no engagement with the concept of working from home being something which would be embraced by professionals (interpreting that term as broadly or as narrowly as you like).
There are a lot of factors that have facilitated the West’s takeup of the home office phenomenon, including massive layoffs at the managerial level, disillusionment with the constraints and stresses of corporate life, the desire of many parents to spend more time with their children while still being productive and earning. And of course the availability of technology which makes it fairly irrelevant – in productivity terms – as to where a working person in certain industries is physically located. Maybe these factors haven’t been in play in China, or not in the same way.
Maybe in the West we just don’t easily comprehend the social and career implications of the sort of growth China is experiencing. The day before we left China, the Shanghai Daily’s front page headline was Double digit growth forecast for the economy: the accompanying story reported an 11.9 percent growth in the second quarter, the fastest growth in 12 years, and a potential growth of 11 percent in the year ahead. Do professionals see working in the office or the factory as the only practical way to be effective and successful in this sort of environment?
If any reader has some more insight on this, I would love to know.
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