With some of the longest working hours in the world, overworking is extremely prevalent in Japanese corporate culture. On top of the gruelling hours in the office. braving heavy traffic jams and long commuting hours are also part of the daily grind for the Japanese workforce. Given this backdrop, teleworking (remote working) and other flexible work arrangements would seem to be a compelling proposition to remove or reduce the need for unnecessary commuting and potentially improving productivity.
Remote working – also known as teleworking – is broadly characterized:
1) as an arrangement where work is carried out away from the office or central workplace);
2) by communication between workforce members using technology, despite the absence of in-person contact.
Teleworking versus ‘face time’
It’s certainly not a new concept in Japan, but Japanese workers have been hesitant to embrace it because ‘face time’ (having a physical presence in the office) is still considered very important in Japanese culture. Whereas 34% of Americans work remotely at least four days a week, only 4% of Japanese do so even one day a week. Social and peer pressure are powerful forces in Japanese society. People behave in a manner which does not deviate from the collective societal norms.
In a bid to transform this, the Abe government has enacted new labour regulations to strictly regulate overtime working. The imminent 2020 Tokyo Olympics have also triggered many companies to implement teleworking trials. These experiments are intended to explore suitable arrangements to allow employees to work remotely without affecting regular business operations. It’s not just about the personal impact, it’s also aimed at easing congestion: there are currently eight million daily commuters in Tokyo and the Olympics are expected to draw an additional 650,000 visitors.
The flexible nature of teleworking allows for various working formats to suit each worker’s individual and specific circumstances. For example, employees who wish to remain in the workforce while raising young children could perform some of their work from home, or work to an adjusted pattern of working hours to enable them to deliver to their employer and be present more easily for their children before and after school hours. Remote working also means that employees can be less dependent on being so close to the office and means that with less gruelling daily travel involved, and less need to be in the office, they could relocate to other parts of the country while continuing to serve companies based in Tokyo. This in turn, can offer employers the opportunity to attract or retain a wider pool of employees.
Teleworking can mean win-win for all
Adoption patterns differ based on organizational culture and circumstances. Large organizations may be able to provide a choice of satellite offices whereas smaller organizations may prefer to simply offer remote working. In whichever way it is organized, there are can be a real win-win for all involved. From a management perspective, teleworking offers the prospect of lower costs – reducing desk and office costs – and the prospect of happier and less stressed workforce; employees who have experienced teleworking identifying productivity improvements and relief from the fatigue of commuting as significant benefits.
Another important benefit for Japanese workers comes from the easing of peer pressure. Working remotely offers a way of working without unnecessary scrutiny from colleagues.
Fully equipped for remote working
In Japan, effective implementation of teleworking initiatives have been made possible by the swift advancement of information technology and the growth in digital networks. Various unified communications (UC) solutions, including Cisco Webex, are widely available, enabling different communication devices and protocols to be seamlessly integrated and managed through one single platform. For those who are concerned about what all this ‘freedom’ means and how it might impact the organization and its business goals, current UC systems offer all the answers. They are comprehensively equipped with the means to effectively track work progress, administrative matters, and enable close collaboration and communication among team members despite being remote from each other. Sophisticated security features are also built in, reducing and in fact removing concerns about data leakage and loss.
As organizations around the world evolve towards objective-based management and modern working patterns evolve and become increasingly independent, the conditions are ripe for Japan to embrace teleworking.
Providing employees with choices as to how, where and when they work may seem like a stark contrast to the traditional way of working, but if it increases the sense of fulfilment, and results in greater productivity, this will surely lead to a net positive contribution to the Japanese economy.