After four years spent working and living alone, far from his family and friends, Tsuyoshi Tatebayashi packed his bags at the end of March and returned, at last, to his wife and two daughters.

Like hundreds of thousands of other white-collar workers, the 44-year-old IT engineer had been on a solo assignment, or tanshin funin, and wasn't expecting to return to his family so soon.

But as the COVID-19 pandemic dragged on, his employer, Fujitsu, decided to bring its far-flung workers home, becoming one of Japan's first big firms to make a start in ending the long-established practice.