+ A

As the world grinds to a halt, they slice, splice and deliver overtime

Mar 18,2020
이미지뷰
From left: Kolon Benit’s Kim Seung-ryul works in his office monitoring Kolon Group’s virtual private network. Kim Sang-hoon at Emart’s Seongsu branch slices raw tuna at the store’s sashimi station in eastern Seoul. Coupang’s Song Min-soo, a manager at the Songpa No. 3 distribution center, loads a van with delivery parcels. [KOLON BENIT, EMART, COUPANG]
While much of humanity is shutting down for the coronavirus outbreak - with countless souls cocooning from the scourge - a proud few are running full tilt, unsung heroes manning the front lines to keep the world connected, clean and well fed.

Kim Seung-ryul, head of Kolon Benit’s IT security team, hasn’t had a good night’s sleep in a while. His phone is next to his bed or in his hand as he is on standby to take care of any problems that may crop up. If the Kolon Group IT system falters in any way, he is informed.

Kim’s most important task these days is expanding and maintaining the group’s virtual private network (VPN), which is needed so employees outside of the office can work on the company’s network.

If the VPN malfunctions, telecommuting is near impossible.

A challenge in the best of times keeping the network up and running is particularly tough in the age of the coronavirus.

The VPN used to accommodate 1,000 users. Now, 3,000 must be able to work on it.

“We joke that the IT security team should be renamed the ‘coronavirus emergency response team,’” said Kim, who is in a state of emergency almost constantly now. “Any problem on the VPN network can halt the workflow of the entire group. It’s like marching into a battlefield everyday.”

Bug busters are also more than busy.

Employees of Cesco, a Korean disinfection and pest management business with 100 offices nationwide, are out constantly sanitizing buildings. All suited up in head-to-toe hazmat suits, the 3,000 field workers spray the chemicals that keep the rest of us safe.

The workers have almost no time for personal matters, while the company itself is ever worried about running low on the necessary chemicals.

“We have inquiries still flooding in from private companies and public offices - each day is a war of its own,” said Kim Jong-koo, Cesco’s PR chief. “We called in every single one of our available workers to be dispatched to the field. Reaching them via phone in between jobs is just difficult.”

Kim Sang-hoon, the sashimi chef at Emart’s Seongsu branch, eastern Seoul, is also on war footing as people opt to eat at home to practice social distancing. Before the virus outbreak, an average of 20 packs of sliced raw tuna were sold on weekdays at the store and 50 packs on weekends. These figures jumped to 150 packs on weekdays and 500 on weekends between Mach 5 and 11.

Kim barely has time to sit and rest. From 8 a.m. until 4 p.m., he slices. As his tuna station attracts long queues of customers, his co-workers playfully ask: “Is the fish station selling masks?”

In the story of Korea versus the virus, the delivery companies are the cavalry. Most of the country has gone to ground, and many call out for sustenance.

Song Min-soo is stationed at Coupang’s Songpa No. 3 camp. His work is educating Coupang Flex trainees, which are part-time delivery workers paid by the number of orders completed. With orders up about 30 percent from normal in recent weeks, he is working non-stop with raw recruits.

Applications for the jobs have surged with orders, and delivery is one of the only job categories that has held up in the crisis. Others are laying off and letting go. Coupang is looking for warm bodies.

Song has to work with the inexperienced newcomers, teaching them everything: the company’s delivery system, the districts in the city and details on hidden entrances in some buildings.

The orientation is well rehearsed and efficient, but Song has to repeat the same story 20 to 30 times a day.

“I still feel satisfaction though when I receive feedback from the customers in my district expressing thanks for the fast delivery,” said Song.

BY LEE SOO-KI [song.kyoungson@joongang.co.kr]