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A growing number of companies in Japan are reviewing their offices after the increase in remote work amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fujitsu Ltd. is attempting to become a Japanese model offering a new way of work based on telecommuting. At its head office in a high-rise building in central Tokyo, each desk is shared by multiple employees instead of being assigned to an individual. With a minimum number of necessary desks, shared areas resemble cafes, with counters and couches.

In September, the technology company completed a project to renovate 10 of the 15 floors it occupies in the building in a bid to address what is considered a common difficulty for remote work — insufficient communication between workers. The renovated office is designed to “facilitate brainstorming and collaboration” among the company’s staff members, a spokesperson for Fujitsu said.

TSP Taiyo Inc., an event management services company, has also renovated its head office in Tokyo, using its know-how in setting up event venues. The renovation, helped by employees’ do-it-yourself efforts, eliminated individually assigned desks, with a cafeteria established in front of conference rooms.

“As the employees working next to you are different every day, communication beyond sectional barriers is increasing,” said Kaori Someya, who headed the renovation project.

An expansion of remote work makes it unnecessary for a company to secure desks for all workers. Planning to allow some 80% of staff to work from home constantly, Fujitsu intends to halve the combined space of its domestic offices by the end of March 2023.

The rate of vacancies at office buildings in central Tokyo rose to 6.3% in July, according to real estate brokerage company Miki Shoji Co. The figure began to rise in March 2020 and is now hovering at the highest level in seven years, due to the completion of new buildings and the cancellation of large-scale lease contracts resulting from the consolidation of offices by many companies.

A survey of 250 executives at Japanese companies with workforces of 500 or more, conducted by Jones Lang LaSalle IP Inc. in October last year, found that 78% of them were considering closing their office or reducing their size. With remote work keeping workers away from the office, it is essential to create new styles of workplace that makes employees willing to go there, JLL said.

Moves are emerging to capitalize on the “new normal” work style as a business opportunity.

NEC Corp. created a section under direct supervision by President and CEO Takayuki Morita in April to examine the possibility of establishing and marketing IT-based office environments. “Combining security, biometrics and other technologies, we would like to create and offer cutting-edge offices to customers,” Morita said.

Hitachi Building Systems Co. completed the renovation of its head office in Tokyo in August, converting it into “an experimental site for work styles in the age of ‘new normal.'”

The refurbished office utilizes a variety of features including apps to take reservations for individual work booths and registrations for event participation. Hitachi Building aims to adopt the office system as a model “smart building” managed by IT for use at its footholds across Japan as well as market the system to customers.

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