The sheer number of people in China forced to work from home to avoid spreading the deadly coronavirus is crashing overburdened messaging and video-conferencing tools.
With many offices closed, workers and businesses in China are flocking to platforms like WeChat Work and Zoom, which has reportedly seen record usage. WeChat, China's equivalent of WhatsApp, said its network crashed after users inundated the platform, according to the South China Morning Post.
The demand surge on its WeChat Work tool came on Monday, the first day back to work for some in China after authorities extended the Lunar New Year holiday. The tidal wave of users also temporarily knocked out WeChat's video-conferencing feature, which has since been restored. DingTalk, a similar app, also reported a disruption in service after more than 200 million users in China had tried sending messages, according to the report.
Wuhan, the region in Hubei province where the virus is thought to have originated, is on virtual lockdown, with Chinese authorities ordering nearly 50 million people to limit their movements. Corporationsalso are telling their China-based employees to work from home and to and from the country.
The virus has killed at least 565 people, all but two of them in China. More than 28,000 people have been infected with the virus, the vast majority of them in China.
The coronavirus has forced what is effectively a large-scale experiment in working from home, and will be a massive test, to some extent, of remote workers' productivity. Some tech players, including Zoom Video Communications, are benefiting from the growing demand for their services. The company's stock price is up 26% since late January, including a sharp 15% gain on Monday.
Some academic studies have shown performance increases among employees who are allowed — or required — to work from home. A 2015 study from Stanford University demonstrated a 13% performance increase among call center employees at a Chinese travel agency who worked from home for nine months.
Communication tools aren't the only kind of technology people in China are using in greater numbers to cope with shuttered businesses and tight travel restrictions. Online movie streaming and gaming platforms have also seen increased usage, according to Wall Street analysts. Some film studios have even cancelled movie premieres, instead.
"[T]he holidays are extended, people are staying at home and they are going to be afraid to go outside for quite some time," David Dai, an analyst with investment research firm Bernstein, told investors in a research note. "So they don't have a lot of options but to go for online entertainment."