Japan’s government has been actively promoting telecommuting as of late, extolling its many benefits from easing traffic congestion, enhancing disaster preparedness, and making talent recruitment and retention more appealing amid the nation’s rough worker shortage.

Unfortunately, it seems that it will take a rather long time before a large number of employees will be able to take advantage of this new work style. The primary issue standing in the way of widespread adoption is the notorious Japanese work culture.

In a recent survey of companies with 100 or more employees conducted by the internal affairs ministry, the acceptance rate of this new work style increased by only 5.2 percent in 2018, compared to the year before.

The overall acceptance rate was at a rather dismal 19.1 percent, with only about 8.5 percent of workers surveyed that actually said that they utilised this new system. This was a modest improvement over the 6.4 percent in 2017.

The rate of adoption is rather disheartening for the government, whose goal is to see teleworking introduced at 34.5 percent of companies by the end of 2020.

“One factor preventing the spread of teleworking is psychological,” said Haruka Kazama, a senior economist at the Mizuho Research Institute. “The corporate culture needs to be more adaptive to flexible working styles and create an atmosphere where employees can feel at ease in the system.”

In addition to the goal of reducing the number of commuters in the dense urban jungles of Tokyo during this summer’s Olympics and Paralympics, the government has been advocating for this new work style in order to resolve the many issues that come with the difficult long hours of the Japanese work culture and to improve productivity despite an ageing population.

Official statements have also mentioned that telecommuting would be a huge boon for the natural disaster stricken nation; should the need ever arise from emergencies which cause the public transportation network to be inoperable.

Analysts have discovered that many Japanese companies tend to believe that their operations are not suited for remote working or other telecommuting arrangements, thus are contented to forfeit the benefits that they might offer. However, the rare few organisations that have integrated remote working into their culture are enjoying its many perks.

Major seasoning and food company Ajinomoto Co. reported that around 90 percent of its 3400 employees used the system for an average of about five days a month in the business year through March 2019.

“Teleworking is spreading fast in our company because it was our bosses who first started it,” said Takaaki Fukunaga, a manager in Ajinomoto’s human resources department.

“For employees it was hard psychologically to do remote work when bosses were not doing it, and for bosses it was difficult to allow employees’ telework when they had no experience of it. They had to check in advance that teleworking works,” Fukunaga said.

He also mentioned that the company’s rules were also being improved to make it easier for employees to utilise the system; including allowing only a single day of notification in advance.

Other companies include Ricoh Co. who has stated it will close its headquarters in Tokyo during the Olympics and allow 2000 of their employees to work remotely from home.

The maker of office equipment expanded its telework system in April 2018 to cover all of its 18,240 employees. Around 13,000 of them use it an average of more than 16 days a month, Ricoh said.

The Mizuho Research Institute currently estimates that if the ratio of teleworkers at each company accounts for 15.4 percent of its total workforce in line with the government’s 2020 target, the nation’s GDP would be elevated by approximately 430 billion yen.

The institute says the economic benefits could be even greater if telecommuting results in expanding the worker pool to include people like housewives and those with disabilities who find it difficult to commute.


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