Business / Economy

Tiny booths for telecommuting begin rollout ahead of Tokyo 2020 Olympics

by Kantaro Komiya

Bloomberg

Call it co-working, Japan-style. People on the go will soon be able to find a quiet place to sit down and tap away on a laptop, thanks to phone-booth-sized offices popping up at train stations, airports and skyscraper lobbies.

An enclosure of just 1.2 sq. meters (13 sq. feet), the soundproof Telecube will have a seat, desk and power outlets. Mitsubishi Estate Co., together with office furniture maker Okamura Corp., video-conferencing software vendor V-Cube Inc. and Telecube Inc., plan to install 1,000 of the booths by 2023.

They are betting on firm demand for the tiny workstations. Tokyo coffee shops are often full of workers toiling away on laptops. WeWork Cos., which opened its first locations in Japan last year, also sees demand growing for more flexible working spaces in places that can be used only when needed.

“If you’re on the way back from a sales visit and happen to have 15 minutes of free time at a train station, you may want to access a quick workplace,” said Telecube CEO Hiroyuki Mashita.

Customers will have to reserve the booths ahead of time, and unlock them via smartphone QR codes. The fee is ¥250 ($2.30) for 15 minutes, and corporate subscriptions charge a monthly rate for a fixed pool of hours.

The government is encouraging telecommuting in anticipation of major congestion for the Olympics, when 7.8 million spectators are forecast to visit, according to the organizing committee.

Companies are also increasingly embracing telework, with 19 percent of businesses with over 100 employees saying they are adopting more flexible working arrangements, up from 16 percent in 2008.

Mitsubishi and its partners have been testing 22 prototype Telecubes since November. East Japan Railway Co. (JR East) is also introducing tiny spaces called Station Booths from Thursday following a trial period.

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