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Getting used to life at home? For many around the world, staying at home 24/7 has become the new normal. For Japan, a country known for its corporate warriors who demonstrate dedication through spending most of their time in the workplace, the coronavirus pandemic could transform the nation’s corporate world.

Yuri Tazawa
Yuri Tazawa

Yuri Tazawa, president of Telework Management Inc., a consulting firm specializing in remote work, expressed this during an interview. “Even before the virus struck, some companies had tried to promote teleworking to encourage flexible working patterns, but it was never done on this scale. The coronavirus outbreak has forced everyone to work from home for such a long period of time and it’s like a whole nation conducting a large-scale (telework) experiment,” she said. “This may change Japan’s long-standing office-bound work style.”

According to a Tokyo Metropolitan Government survey involving some 400 companies with 30 employees or more, the percentage of Tokyo-based firms that have introduced telework grew by 2.6 times to 62.7 percent in April, up from 24.0 percent in March. Meanwhile, the survey also found that an average of 49.1 percent of workers worked from home in April compared to an average of 15.7 percent in December.

Although many were initially perplexed by the social distancing and stay home policies when the pandemic hit Japan earlier this year, they seem to have discovered a whole new lifestyle since their introduction.

Instead of a long, crowded train ride to work, one’s workspace is now the dining room, living room or balcony. Face-to-face meetings have been replaced by online video conferences. Saving daily commuting time makes it possible to have dinner at home with one’s family early in the evening. Many catering services and lessons, such as yoga and even cooking classes, are available online to enrich home life. After all, the new lifestyle may not be so bad.

Tazawa, who has also been making policy proposals for the government and municipalities to promote telework, is convinced that telework can be a problem-solving tool for Japanese society.

“People might think we are encouraging teleworking because of the coronavirus outbreak, but it can also help solve issues like promoting diversity in workplaces and work-life balance, revitalization of rural communities and crisis management,” she said.

For example, working from home enables mothers and fathers to spend more time with their kids. Companies can hire young and talented people living in rural communities because they don’t have to commute to cities. Eliminating nonessential commuting can reduce urban congestion, which may help cut carbon dioxide emissions. Companies can better cope with risk management in case of natural calamities, such as typhoons and earthquakes.

As living with the pandemic is likely to continue for months, or perhaps years, Tazawa predicts that there will be a drastic shift in people’s mindset and how businesses operate in Japan.

After having experienced telework for the bulk of their time, many people have already realized how important it is to physically meet and communicate with their colleagues and friends. However, at the same time, they have become aware that work can be done without going to the office every day. If such a work style is established, companies may decide to downsize their physical offices and it may not be as pressing for professionals to find housing in Tokyo.

“The value of work that requires workers’ physical presence, such as serving at a Tokyo izakaya (Japanese pub), may become more expensive than the work that can be done online. But I am sure lots of more online services and work will appear in the future,’’ Tazawa said.

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