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[Overway Overseas] The Work Culture in China

Welcome back to Shenzhen, everyone!

EO here. This week we’re going to be diving into the work culture in Shenzhen, or more specifically Huaqiangbei.

Throughout my filming experience here so far, I’ve noticed a large cultural difference between labor forces and attitudes in the western world and Shenzhen. In the States, we seem to conform to the classic “American work day”, which is a nine to five, Monday through Friday schedule. Right away we see differences here in that most companies open around eleven or noon and don’t shut down until the early evening around six or seven. The longer days are accompanied by longer breaks, but the scope of one’s work seems to be honed in on one specific duty, in what I imagine is an effort to maximize efficiency.

In our office here in Shenzhen, we have a space shared with about 50 other companies. In these offices are beautiful semi-open floor plans with glass-walled private offices and natural wood adornments. Despite the large amount of companies here and all over Huaqiangbei, or Shenzhen for that matter, it seems that most workers take a long lunch period around noon before getting back to work. After this, naps are encouraged throughout the day. There are times every day where I’ll walk past an office to see an entire group of people all sleeping, head to desk, pillows for support, and lights off. I’ve seen some American companies adopt this (props to Google and others), but for the most part, napping is seen as laziness or a distraction by companies here in the U.S. In Shenzhen, however, it seems like more of a cultural regularity than a company specific perk, and it pays off. We haven’t exactly adopted this change ourselves as we’re typically off site at the factory or working with manufacturers, but a nap after lunch does sound pretty appetizing, doesn’t it?

The efficiency and work ethic I’ve seen here is completely unmatched in the western world. Sales associates are relentless and unfearing. Shippers and packers carry through their work day without distraction or hesitation. Probably the most interesting part about this is the relaxed stature they all seem to hold onto. Perhaps I haven’t witnessed enough laborers, but I couldn’t find almost any signs of stress, anxiety, fatigue, you name it. Maybe there is just a cultural firewall, but from what I can see, spreading out their day and allowing more free time throughout it allows for more efficiency and more happiness. I see this change happening with our team out here on a daily basis. Sure, we’re all up by 6am and we don’t get home until the late evening, but the day doesn’t feel stressful or too condensed, and truthfully seems to be more efficient.

Shenzhen hasn’t always been like this. It was simply a low-key fishing village before being designated the first Special Economic Zone of China. In the blink of an eye, the city turned itself into a sprawling metropolis of commerce and entrepreneurship like no one had ever seen. The city has grown so fast that it undergoes constant change. Our team has been able to notice major city developments, such as entire city blocks being demolished or rebuilt, even though we only opened our office in HQB last year. Much like our team, most of the city’s population wasn’t born here, nor are they permanent residents of Shenzhen. The overwhelming majority of Shenzhen simply works here, so they’re here around 50 weeks a year before returning home to their families for Chinese New Year. This leads to the population count being a simple guessing game. Some estimate there are 10 million citizens in Shenzhen, while other census research shows upwards of 18 million.

Shenzhen Marketplace

Alongside the work ethic here are the cultural differences regarding innovation and invention. There is a massive “Maker” movement that has sprung up in the last couple of decades. Makers are what the US would recognize as product developers and inventors. Some of the businesses in our building are startup companies making new and exciting technology like electric unicycles or open source 3D printing software and equipment. There are even inventors sent here by their investors to develop and prototype new products. It’s no wonder that Shenzhen is known as the Hardware Capital of the world.

Regardless of what industry you come from, working in Shenzhen is an inspiring change of pace. It’s definitely a place where you gain the confidence to create and industrialize almost anything you can think of. I’m happy to have realized that coming here was one of the most daring but energizing things we can do as a company, and I can’t wait to see the energy in this city take us to the next level.

Stay tuned for more blog posts and videos about my trip to China. Next time, we will detail the birth of an MD Select screen, from start to finish. It will all be right here on our blog!