Ding! Alibaba office app fuels backlash among some Chinese workers

    BEIJING/HANGZHOU, China (Reuters) – Within the cramped former dwelling of Jack Ma, founding father of the Chinese language e-commerce big Alibaba, about thirty younger engineers sit elbow-to-elbow, working to draw the subsequent million customers for DingTalk, Alibaba’s office communication software program.

    Their set up within the hallowed flat the place Ma received his begin within the jap metropolis of Hangzhou displays DingTalk’s place within the pecking order of the corporate’s sprawling assortment of start-up tasks.

    Since December 2014, DingTalk has grown exponentially to develop into the world’s largest chat service designed for corporations, with over 100 million particular person customers and seven million employers throughout China. The corporate says, with out offering numbers, that it additionally has a rising presence in Europe, the US and Southeast Asia.

    However its speedy rise – propelled by a promise to spice up productiveness via higher monitoring of worker actions and sooner responses to essential messages – has sparked a backlash from Chinese language employees who say the app fuels an unhealthy work tradition.

    That additionally raises questions on DingTalk’s capacity to develop into the West, the place individuals are sometimes guarded about their office privateness. In China, surveillance by the authorities and employers is already frequent.

    Like WhatsApp, DingTalk lets senders see if recipients have learn messages, but it surely additionally has a “ding” function that may bombard recipients with repeat notifications, textual content messages and phone-call reminders.

    On prime of this authentic function, the corporate has added a variety of features that embrace computerized expense claims, a clock-in system to watch the whereabouts of workers, in addition to a “each day report” operate that requires employees to checklist accomplished duties.

    As DingTalk has grown, many Chinese language workplace employees have vented their frustrations on-line in regards to the service, saying it’s inhumane and destroys belief.

    On, a question-and-answer web site, a thread entitled “how does it really feel prefer to be pressured to make use of DingTalk at work” has greater than a thousand posts and has been considered over 7.7 million instances.

    An off-the-cuff Reuters ballot of 30 employees utilizing DingTalk confirmed that about half had destructive emotions in regards to the app, whereas the remainder stated they had been high quality with it – actually because their corporations had not adopted options such because the clock-in operate.

    “There’s a saying in my circle, that it is best to give up the day your organization installs DingTalk,” stated Robert, who works in luxurious retail within the northwestern province of Shaanxi and complains that DingTalk has “fragmented his time into items”. He declined to offer his surname.

    Li Xiaoyang, a former software program gross sales agent in Beijing, stated he had to make use of DingTalk’s geo-location operate at his earlier agency at any time when he met a consumer, and use a face scanner to confirm he was attending conferences.

    “I felt so disgusted by it,” he stated, including that he was continuously dinged by managers.

    “Each degree of administration thinks their demand is the highest precedence and needs to be handled first,” he stated. “Even worse, they are going to ding you thru DingTalk even on vacation and you may’t fake you didn’t see it.”

    An organization spokesperson stated in response to the ballot that DingTalk offered an efficient communications device for the office. “DingTalk has many happy prospects utilizing our device in Asia, Europe and the U.S., which factors to its success and buyer satisfaction.”

    The spokesperson additionally stated that DingTalk had safety expertise constructed into the app to guard the privateness of workers and firms’ confidential company knowledge.

    “DingTalk has not solely helped corporations enhance workflow effectivity via a unified communications platform, but in addition inspired transparency and accountability throughout the office.”


    DingTalk sprang from Alibaba’s unsuccessful try to problem the WeChat immediate messenger of its arch-rival, Tencent Holdings Ltd, the service’s chief govt, Wu Zhao, stated in an interview.

    Workers work at DingTalk workplace, an offshoot of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China July 20, 2018. Image taken July 20, 2018. REUTERS/Aly Music

    “We got here to grasp that we didn’t perceive social media platforms,” Wu stated at DingTalk’s workplaces in Hangzhou, the place Alibaba has its headquarters.

    As a substitute, Wu’s workforce sought one other area of interest, tackling a typical managerial grievance in China: employees who fail to answer to messages and later feign ignorance.

    The driving drive behind DingTalk’s progress has been fixing the organizational considerations of Chinese language corporations and offering – without spending a dime – a platform that provides corporations a degree of effectivity just like Alibaba’s, Wu stated.

    “What Jack Ma stated to me was: ‘Wu Zhao, serving to small and medium enterprises is our firm’s mission. You go try this; don’t concern your self with being profitable’,” he stated.

    Requested about DingTalk’s enterprise mannequin, Wu stated the corporate was specializing in serving to corporations develop into clear and environment friendly, fairly than making a revenue.

    The app’s primary options are all free, however customers must pay for and extra cloud storage or convention name minutes, in addition to for third celebration companies.

    Alibaba doesn’t specify DingTalk’s income in its monetary statements.

    Wu is conscious of the backlash DingTalk is going through, however says the issue is a “poisonous work tradition at some corporations” and misuse by some employers.

    “The device itself isn’t the issue; the way in which it’s used is the issue,” he stated.

    “DingTalk’s purpose is to encourage clear and equal communications amongst all workers,” Wu stated. “We imagine solely by creating an equal, clear and efficient communications atmosphere that bottom-up and actual innovation will be realized.”


    Information from the app have been utilized by corporations as proof to fireside workers and dock pay, in response to labor-related lawsuits seen by Reuters in court docket filings.

    However DingTalk additionally wins reward as a productiveness assist.

    “It saves numerous time as you now not want to take a seat in bodily convention calls and make cellphone calls. For essential issues, you simply must ding somebody,” stated Liu Sufen, a spokeswoman on the Chinese language bicycle-sharing agency Hellobike.

    For bigger corporations, like Dongguan Meishang Clothes, which has a nation-wide consumer base and greater than three,000 workers, DingTalk has helped scale back prices and enhance effectivity, stated Peng Xiang, the corporate’s info director.

    “Earlier than we used DingTalk, it was practically not possible for workers to speak instantly with the boss; nevertheless with DingTalk this turns into doable and simple.”

    Peng stated approval processes that after took per week might now be carried out in an hour on DingTalk.

    Regardless of the grumbling, Wu believes the service will translate throughout borders and cultures – even within the West.

    “For those who come into Starbucks within the morning and you’re informed you may’t purchase espresso as a result of their workers hasn’t arrived, will you settle for that? Even the Europeans gained’t settle for tardiness.”

    Nonetheless, Chen Bikui, a companion at Liuhe Ventures who invests in enterprise software program startups, stated he doubted that DingTalk would succeed overseas, citing points like privateness considerations within the West.

    Slideshow (2 Photographs)

    “DingTalk is a lot tailor-made to Chinese language corporations – it will be laborious for it to be adopted by corporations from different nations,” he stated.

    Reporting by Yawen Chen in BEIJING and Christian Shepherd in HANGZHOU; Further Reporting by Beijing Newsroom and Elias Glenn; Enhancing by Tony Munroe and Philip McClellan

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