Tech giant Alibaba's Freshhema, a fresh food retailer that offers delivery service, came up with the idea of "sharing employees" with restaurants and ride-sharing firms that face sluggish markets as more people are staying at home and choosing online shopping amid the novel coronavirus outbreak.
As of Monday, over 1,800 workers have started their new, short-term jobs as deliverymen with Freshhema. Among their "previous" employers are 32 catering firms, ride-sharing companies, shopping malls, hotels and cinemas that are facing a sharp downturn in clients.
Take-out orders only reach about 10 percent of the previous average, and over 20,000 workers are unemployed, said Jia Guolong, head of the Xibei catering company. Popular chain restaurants can only survive three months on loans, according to Jia.
Zhao Yuxiang is among thousands of employees who are struggling to maintain a steady paycheck as their restaurants were forced to close temporarily due to a major loss of customers.
"Though the company has promised to pay a basic salary and subsidies in the following months, I'm looking for a part-time job," said Zhao.
Meanwhile, online orders of groceries and medical supplies continue to pour in, leaving e-business platforms such as JD.com and Freshhema shorthanded. Even the most competitive delivery service providers can only promise overnight delivery and have increased their delivery fees.
Over 30 dining companies have reached out to Freshhema after it announced the strategy of "sharing employees," and the fresh food retailer has recovered to its pre-epidemic level of service capacity.
Besides dining enterprises, drivers of ride-sharing firms have also hit the road to deliver food to customers.
On Feb. 6, Alibaba also launched an online recruitment platform to offer short-term jobs for the local workforce that is now idle. Interested workers can sign up for either delivering items for Alibaba's delivery service branch or nearby supermarkets.
"The idea of sharing employees first came up as a temporary measure to handle the changes brought by the epidemic, but we have seen great potential in it," said Hu Qiugen, who is in charge of Freshhema's national operation management.
Considering the slack and peak seasons of different industries, flexible human resource management across industries can largely contribute to the efficiency of enterprises, and higher paychecks are expected among workers willing to take the jobs, Hu said.