Business

Japanese firms give telecommuting a try on designated day to ease rush hour congestion

by Daisuke Kikuchi

Staff Writer

It’s Monday morning. You roll out of bed, grab a coffee, sit on the couch and you’re already at work. Sound good? Well, that’s how the government wants you to work.

Monday — exactly three years before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics — was Telework Day.

The government’s telecommuting campaign encouraged companies and other organizations nationwide to get their employees to work outside of the office — from their home, a cafe or a satellite office — to reduce congestion in mass-transit systems, especially during the morning rush hour until 10:30 a.m.

Anticipating 40 million tourists from overseas in 2020, heavy congestion on the public transportation system in Tokyo during the Olympics is predicted.

More than 900 organizations took part in Monday’s project, including the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and The Japan Times, not only to cooperate in reducing congestion but also to introduce healthier work practices for employees.

“In the past, economic growth was achieved through hard work and long working hours. But now, it’s unlikely for people to think that long working hours are linked to achievement,” Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike said at an event Thursday dubbed Telework Festa.

On Monday, about 1,000 employees of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government worked from outside the office, either at home or at temporary satellite offices placed in four Tokyo locations.

“We need a new (work style) with less physical stress, to enrich the life of each individual,” Koike said.

Snack maker Calbee Inc. was one of the big companies that took part in the campaign.

At Calbee’s headquarters in Tokyo, most desks and chairs were left empty on Monday. Of the roughly 330 Tokyo-based employees eligible for the work arrangement, about 270 opted to telecommute, said Yusuke Nakamura of Calbee’s human resources department.

“Heading to work this morning, I was predicting that maybe about a half (of all staff) would be in the office. I’m very surprised,” Nakamura said.The company introduced its telework policy this April, but Nakamura said only about half of all employees have signed up. Calbee expects there will be more interest thanks to the campaign, he said.

“By no longer commuting, they can spend more time doing other things, such as housework,” Calbee spokeswoman Rie Makuuchi said Friday.

NTT Data Corp. announced that more than half of the workforce at its Tokyo headquarters took part in the campaign.

Of about 5,800 participants, 2,900 worked from outside the office and 2,900 staggered their work hours. On top of that, 1,800 employees took the day off.

The Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, the main organizer of the campaign, hopes the project served as a good trial run so firms can warm up to the concept of telecommuting.

“There are not many Japanese companies that allow telework. That’s why the purpose of (Telework Day) this year is to have (businesses) try it out,” a ministry official explained.

According to a survey conducted by the ministry in 2016, only about 13.3 percent of businesses allowed their employees to telework. By 2020, the ministry aims to increase the rate to about 30 percent, the official said.

The survey also concluded that productivity at businesses allowing remote work was about 1.6 times higher than at firms without the practice.

“To have more businesses introduce telework, we must provide opportunities for all companies to try it out,” he said, adding that the Telework Day campaign will be held each year around July 24 until 2020.