What is it like to work in China?

One of the most commonly asked questions I've received since moving to Beijing from Silicon Valley is, "How do you enjoy working in China?" Here are a few things I've seen thus far. Please note that these are only my own views and do not reflect the views of all members of the Chinese IT sector.

"Work," as we understand it, consists of responding to WeChat messages while juggling other responsibilities. I get hundreds of WeChat messages a day for business (not including major WeChat groups). WeChat is used to send important information like business blueprints and legal paperwork. Professionals often have tens of thousands of unread messages on WeChat, according to the study. Like your email inbox, except with every line split down into a new message. People are often interrupted and distracted during meetings due to the steady stream of WeChat messages, many of which demand an instant response. Adults in China's tech circles have shorter attention spans than American youngsters. "WeChat hygiene" involves extreme self-discipline: marking every message as "unread," setting reminders for communications that must be responded to later, and going through your contact list to add tags... My WeChat inbox was empty one day before I went tonight, and I felt the same elation that "Inbox zero" gave me in the US. It was all over again the following day when I awoke to find 30 unread messages in my inbox.

In China, you have to deal with a lot more people and information all the time. Having meetings back-to-back from dawn to dusk is not unheard of these days. Due to scheduling constraints, we often meet and dine together. Mealtime is revered in the US, and I've seen that few individuals do business throughout the course of a meal. Not if you're from China. People often have meetings over dinner, and then continue with drinks afterward. Before returning to work, many coworkers join together for a quick meal. Ride-hailing apps like Didi have surge pricing around 10 pm when everyone is finally leaving work to head home in districts of Beijing with numerous tech or financial enterprises.

People in China are constantly glued to their mobile devices. If your dinner companion checks her phone 15 times throughout the course of the meal, don't take it personally. Most huge Chinese dinner gatherings end abruptly halfway through the meal because people are distracted by WeChat messages on their phones. This goes on for the following five minutes. Like many others used to Western etiquette, I first thought this lack of focus was offensive. Then you realize that it's grown so commonplace that even the polite ones do it. It's a shame. Because WeChat is an instant messenger, many users feel pressured to respond immediately to anything that comes their way. Although I've become better at it, I still make an effort to put my phone aside during meals with others so I can focus on them.

The communication techniques of Chinese businesspeople and technologists tend to be quite direct. In the West, individuals tend to be blunt and direct; in China, however, people tend to be more evasive and utter meaningless remarks that need interpretation. That's no longer the case (at least in the tech circle). Because of the above-mentioned time constraints, people are impatient with small chat, which leads to a high number of transactional transactions. There have been occasions when my colleague has asked me, "So what nice deals have you seen recently?" at the start of a meeting. So quickly, and with no regard for my character or well-being at all. This approach does not sit well with me since I believe that every firm is a "people business" and that trust and rapport must be built before discussing work-related issues. The issue is: How do you go about relationship-building when you're short on time?

It's dynamic – and I don't just mean in a good way. Many activities are planned or cancelled at the last minute because of late arrivals. Instead of sending calendar invites for coffee dates weeks in advance as is the norm in the Bay Area, Chinese folks often get dinner invitations the day before. Email is not used by anybody, therefore calendar invites are seldom sent out. Expect 2 to 3 meetings to be canceled or postponed for every 10 planned. A lot of people find themselves in the same situation: I plan on having supper with Friend A on Sunday night. Friend A calls me on Saturday to say he'll be late because he has a meeting in Shanghai. That's why I tell Friend B I'm free on Sunday night so we can go out to supper. My Shanghai trip has been postponed due to a last-minute cancellation by his intended meeting partner, so we can have dinner together after all. As a result, I inquire with Friend B about rescheduling. B then informs C (whom she previously abandoned) that she was dumped and that they may have dinner together after all... and so the story goes on. After a while, I just stopped attempting to organize everything in advance and instead developed a more meditative attitude, somewhat abandoning my schedule to chance.

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