An appeal for new working style . . .
The Government of Japan is urging businesses to aim for a 70 per cent teleworking rate in light of July’s spike in new COVID cases, which has mainly affected urban areas. Several large companies have complied, including electronics firms Hitachi and NEC, and telecommunications giant Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Company (NTT), which employ over 600,000 workers combined. Pre-COVID, Japan had one of the lowest telework rates among developed countries, at about six per cent. A recent study found that half of its workers lack the ability to work remotely due to the relatively low number of employees in specialized, knowledge-intensive occupations. For example, 19 per cent of the workforce is in office administration, which cannot be done remotely because of lagging digitization.
An immobile office culture . . .
Not only does Japanese office culture value physical presence and long work hours, but many households are not technologically equipped for remote work. The cost to businesses of equipping themselves and their employees for teleworking is estimated at C$16.5 billion. Particularly problematic for Japan is the hanko system, whereby documents must be physically stamped for approval. There is also resistance to teleworking among employees. In a June survey, 40 per cent of respondents were dissatisfied with working remotely, and 60 per cent admitted decreased productivity. In another study, 35 per cent of teleworkers reported a deterioration in their mental health, while only 14 per cent noted improvements. Major complaints included a lack of work-life separation and difficulties communicating with co-workers in a culture where many younger employees have limited social lives outside of their office circles.
Advancing Abenomics’s ‘third arrow’ . . .
The Government of Japan has pushed, unsuccessfully, for labour reforms as part of Abenomics’s ‘third arrow’ of structural reform. With the pandemic, the government has scaled up its efforts. In April, Prime Minster Shinzo Abe announced plans to stimulate digitization and overhaul laws related to hanko to encourage remote workflow management. As part of the coronavirus relief package, equipment subsidies for small- and medium-sized businesses, which make up 70 per cent of Japan’s economy, doubled. In June, the share of teleworkers rose to 35 per cent nationwide. It remains to be seen if the ratio can be doubled to meet the new target.
- The Japan Times: Remote possibilities: Can every home in Japan become an office?
- The PIIE Insider Weekly Newsletter: Coronavirus crisis may accelerate Japan's structural reform
- The South China Morning Post: Japan’s employees are working from home, but stress has followed them