05 Mar 2020

Amid Coronavirus Lockdown, Harvard Business School Publishing Innovates for a Changing Work Culture in China


International corporate learning unit offers free online remote collaboration micro course to millions in China grappling with the challenges of COVID-19.

by Shona Simkin

Over the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday, Liangliang Li, founder and CEO of Beijing Hubs Education and Technology, with whom Harvard Business School Publishing (HBP) has an exclusive partnership, approached Vinay Hebbar, HBP’s senior vice president for international markets, with an idea. “Organizations were sending volunteer health care teams and supplies to Wuhan to help with the outbreak. We asked ourselves how we could leverage Harvard’s resources and expertise to support the country. We thought a short course would help teams that were working remotely for the first time,” said Li. Hebbar approved the idea immediately. “Working remotely has not been an accepted practice in China; it runs counter to a culture that prizes long hours in the office. There is a real need to make it effective and efficient for both organizations and workers,” said Hebbar.

The multiple challenges that China presents for online learning—a firewall, different regulatory and legal concerns, culture and language barriers—has made a local partnership essential for deploying HBP’s corporate learning programs through Harvard ManagementMentor (HMM). Li, an alumnus of the HBS Executive Education Program for Leadership Development and former director of Executive Education Corporate Relations at Harvard Center Shanghai, had the resources, cultural competency, and institutional knowledge to effectively customize HBS and HBP content for the Chinese market. Eighteen months into the partnership, the COVID-19 outbreak hit, resulting in shuttered businesses and factories, suspended international flights, and extended national quarantines.

Within two days of his initial proposal, Li’s team finalized a new micro version of HMM’s Remote Collaboration course, which launched the morning of February 3. To deploy it as widely and efficiently as possible, Li also requested that clients be allowed to bypass the more time-consuming technical platform integration, and host the package on their own systems. Currently, there are 1,236 companies registered, authorizing 15,282,184 users.

“These numbers are amazing and remarkable,” said Hebbar. “You might think that learning and development would take a back seat in times like this, as people wrestle with the fundamental issues of illness, quarantines, and closing businesses. Even in this context, China has chosen to invest in learning.” Senior Associate Dean, External Relations and Harvard Business Publishing Das Narayandas agrees. “We are thrilled to be able to offer even a small solution to some of the challenges being faced in China at this time. We’ve seen that in times of crisis, the most resilient firms are those that are able to be flexible and adaptable. Sometimes uncertainty can act as a catalyst for positive change in a business,” said Narayandas.

Post a Comment

Comments must be on-topic and civil in tone (with no name calling or personal attacks). Any promotional language or urls will be removed immediately. Your comment may be edited for clarity and length.