Office apps crash as coronavirus forces Chinese people to work from home
Most in China are working remotely, driving demand for video conferencing services and workplace apps like Alibaba's DingTalk and Tencent's WeChat Work
Popular office apps in China crashed temporarily on Monday due to soaring demand as employees nationwide resumed work after an extended Lunar New Year break, with most people logging in remotely amid the outbreak of a deadly new coronavirus.
Authorities earlier extended the Spring Festival break – initially set to run from January 24 to 30 – by three days until Sunday in an attempt to help contain the virus which has officially killed 427 as of Tuesday afternoon, with more than 20,000 cases reported globally.
On the first day back at work, tens of millions of users overwhelmed the servers of DingTalk and WeChat Work, two of China’s most widely used workplace apps by Chinese tech giants Alibaba and Tencent respectively, by attempting to start the day with virtual morning meetings.
A surge in demand for video conferencing services at 9am caused a temporary disruption on DingTalk, the app said in a statement on China’s Twitter-like social platform Weibo, adding that the service was restored before noon.
WeChat Work’s video conferencing feature was also disrupted as millions of companies worked remotely via the app, according to a post on its official Weibo account. The service later resumed operation after urgent repairs on the network and expanded capacity, according to the post on Monday afternoon.
Most of China is working remotely this week as at least 24 of the country’s 31 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions including Beijing and Shanghai have told businesses not to reopen before February 10 at the earliest.
The spike in online traffic appears to have been too much for even some of China’s largest servers.
Aside from DingTalk and WeChat Work, some users of other workplace apps such as Huawei’s WeLink and ByteDance’s team collaboration platform Lark – known as Feishu in China – also complained on social media about experiencing crashes or slow loading times on Monday.
Huawei declined to comment, while ByteDance did not immediately respond to queries.
Employees from more than 10 million corporate organizations were working from home on DingTalk on Monday, its owner Alibaba – which is also the parent company of the Post – said in the Weibo post. The number of users on the app exceeded 200 million that day, 36Kr reported.
E-commerce giant Alibaba is known for its 24-hour Singles’ Day shopping extravaganza, held on November 11 every year. Last year, it reported “zero-downtime” during the event despite its servers powering billions of transactions worth a record US$38.4 billion.
With more companies telling employees to work from home, DingTalk offered free use of its work-from-home features and even introduced a beauty filter for video calls to save users the trouble of putting on makeup to look good while working from home.
In response to an anticipated increase in demand for workplace communication services during the outbreak, WeChat Work also increased the maximum number of meeting participants for its video conferencing service to 300 people, and offered some features such as telemedicine and online training free of charge to organisations including hospitals and schools.
WeChat Work is an offshoot of Tencent’s WeChat, China’s ubiquitous messaging and do-everything app with over 1.1 billion active users.
China’s traditionally consumer-focused tech companies have been gearing up efforts to compete for corporate clients in recent years as demand in the country’s enterprise software market grows. The value of the industry increased 47.9 percent year-on-year to 24.4 billion yuan (US$3.5 billion) in 2018 and is expected to hit 65.4 billion yuan by 2021, according to a report by China IPO data provider iResearch.
The global market for video conferencing alone is estimated to reach US$6.7 billion by 2025, according to a separate report by US consulting firm Grand View Research in August.