By Melissa Francis
In Japan remote work is referred to using a number of different common terms, including 在宅勤務 zaitaku kinmu (telecommuting), the most direct translation リモートワーク rimooto waaku, or テレワーク terewaaku (telework). Those who are based remotely from the outset as a consistent way of working are taking part in what’s known as furu rimooto waaku (full-time remote work).
How is the concept of Japan remote work playing out?
Typically, Japan remote work has been limited to computer engineers and IT services, and many companies rely on a physical office space as a base from which to operate and conduct their daily business. So for many Japanese not working in IT and related industries, considering how to reconfigure their usual way of working undoubtedly presents something of a challenge. This is particularly the case since Japanese professionals generally put so much emphasis on meeting face-to-face with co-workers and clients to help build rapport and trust.
In 2018, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications’ Telecommunications Usage Trend Survey found that just 19% of companies had a remote working option in place. This figure is likely to have increased since then, but this nevertheless demonstrates that there’s a lot of potential for further understanding and growth on the subject.
What initiatives are being implemented to promote Japan remote work?
The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications has released a number of resources over the past few years relating to the development of Japan remote work policies and recommendations. This includes seminars on the subject, as well as practical guides for businesses looking to implement it as part of their strategy. The Coronavirus outbreak pulled the need for social distancing into the spotlight, and therefore highlighted remote work along with it.
The Infectious Diseases Control Headquarters released its Coronavirus guidance on 25th February when the outbreak was at its peak in Asia, including information about how Japanese citizens and employers could help prevent the spread.
Large corporates in Japan led the way in asking a certain percentage of their workforce to work remotely, including the likes of; Dentsu, Shiseido, Sony, and Takeda Pharmaceutical among others. There was also another approach that would stagger the days and times employees commuted to the office in order to minimise contact with co-workers and the amount of time spent on crowded public transport. As mentioned in our previous post on Japan’s response to the Coronavirus outbreak, the Japanese government has also carried out their ‘Telework Days’ scheme for a certain number of weeks each year since 2017. This shows that Japan remote work is not an entirely new concept; businesses have been working up to it in recent years.
Participating companies increased significantly over the three years it’s been running, which shows that there’s a growing appetite for enabling employees to conduct work remotely, not to mention the 2018 study in which half of respondents said the second-highest motivator for choosing a new job would be the ability to work from home.
Japan remote work has been encouraged during busy periods where there’s an influx of tourists such as the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the Tokyo 2020 Olympic & Paralympic Games. Now that the Games have been postponed until 2021, however, attention on the topic of remote work has been more immediate due to COVID-19, with Japanese companies scrambling to get operations in place.
Caster: making Japan remote work the obvious choice
In addition to the aforementioned government initiatives, there’s one company that particularly stands out in terms of evangelising the concept of remote work to Japanese professionals—and that’s Caster.
Founded in 2014, Caster’s CEO Shota Nakagawa believes that remote work should be an obvious choice for companies, given the benefits from both a business and employee viewpoint. The overarching company vision is to give people more freedom through a labour revolution. There are upwards of 700 full-time remote workers already affiliated with the company. Currently, Caster manages twelve different services, with more being developed in the pipeline.
Here’s a handful of Caster’s proprietary offerings helping to boost the profile of remote work in Japan:
- Caster Biz – an online assistant service to outsource both daily and more specialised tasks from administrative to web development and more.
- Caster BPO – a completely customisable outsourcing solution assigned to remote workers for a wide range of everyday business needs that cannot be completed in-house by a company.
- Zaitaku Haken – a network of highly-skilled former managers and specialists working remotely are paired on a flexible basis with businesses based on their needs.
- Bosyu – based in Shibuya, bosyu is a more generalised outsourcing site, not only taking into consideration business requirements but also personal errands and requests, such as pet-sitting or fitness instruction.
- Remote Academy – training academy specifically aimed at professionals who want to become a someone doing Japan remote work. Courses feature online webinars, classes and tools to help them succeed with remote work.
The company adheres to five specific codes of conduct as follows:
- Implement and promote alternative working styles
- Create pride in work and remain professional
- Become a practitioner, not a critic
- Be transparent and honest
- Give strictly correct responses rather than flimsy, incorrect ones.
In a recent interview for Newswitch, Nakagawa said that the option of remote work is becoming necessary in urban areas like Tokyo, because of the crowded trains, problems with sexual harassment and being unable to secure appropriate childcare. The latter rings true particularly at a time when schools have been temporarily closed due to Coronavirus. Nakagawa is also currently in the process of setting up the Remote Workers Association, with the aim of making the dissemination of information and support for remote workers and companies looking to adopt remote working policies easier to access.
Besides being tweeted alongside the closely linked terms #テレワーク (telework), #在宅勤務 (telecommuting), #Zoom and #ZoomMeeting, the #リモートワーク (remote work) hashtag has seen some other more unusual associations. For instance, there’s #ねるねるねるね which relates to a DIY candy product created by Kracie designed to nurture kids’ creativity—these are being purchased and posted about by teens and those in their 20s in particular.
Another related hashtag is #yogibo which refers to a Korean furniture brand which, in addition to its existing lineup, has started offering its comfy modular ‘Modju’ sofas for the Japanese market. This might be relevant for new home workers as they are trying to maintain their physical health when they might not have access to their regular office chairs.
Furthermore, between April 6th – 30th, to celebrate the opening of six new Japan stores, Yogibo Japan is running a social media campaign giving six lucky users the chance to win a ‘Remote Work Set’—all they need to do is follow the official account and re-tweet before the deadline.
Here’s what Twitter users are saying about their experiences with Japan remote work.
リモートワークしていると、いつも口頭ですませるようなこともしっかり言語化してテキストで伝える機会増えるから、脳をいつもより使っている感じある#リモートワークあるある— シゲ (@shige_works) March 31, 2020
“When I work remotely, there are more opportunities for me to verbalize things that are always spoken and convey them in text instead, so I feel that I use my brain more than usual.” – @shige_works
“I switched to remote work from today, but after working at the dining table for a whole day instead of the company chair, my stomach felt awful. I’m fine in terms of my mental concentration, but I’m scared because I’m going to reach my physical limit soon.” – @kakure_ohisaman
30歳以下”slackかteamsでいいですよね？”— HACHI@戦略コンサル (@T4T4tttt) March 31, 2020
Under 30s: “Is it okay to use Slack or Teams?”
If you’re not good at what you do, it’s usually like this.
Over 40s: “I’ll come into the office, but I don’t mind if it has to be remote.”
I think the reason that the number of people infected with Coronavirus in Tokyo is the highest among those in their 40s is not only because they go out at night, but also because they do not choose to do remote work. – @T4T4tttt
Since nomikai (drinking parties) are still popular among co-workers, these are also being held online, a new layer to Japan remote work. One Twitter user also highlights the merits and demerits of hosting a company drinking party via Zoom.
見えてきたリモートzoom飲み会の功罪— つよつよエンジニア社長スガサワ (@braving) April 4, 2020
Remote drinking party on Zoom
- It’s easy to move around
- Even newcomers can talk easily
- Drinking at home reduces distance
- Somehow a refreshing change
- Seems to be endless as there’s no closing time or last train of the night
- It’s difficult to close the distance when meeting people for the first time
- The feeling of guilt when making small talk
- Small children freak the Section Chief out. – @braving
Over on Instagram, there are many posts relating to Japan remote work that feature pets, food, self-care, and plants or flowers in workers’ homes. Few posts are actually about the specific act of remote working itself, and the ones that are tend to be from businesses that specialise in creating solutions for remote workers. Some users have posted about their own personal home solutions, though, and there is an emphasis on cleanliness and ensuring a lack of distractions.
All in all, users posting with the remote working hashtag appear idealistic and designed to spread positivity and keep spirits up. When it comes to posts showing food, there also tends to be a more luxury or ‘gourmet’ vibe through which users capture their elaborately decorated dishes. Since Zoom is the most popular tool being used by companies, there are a number of screenshot posts with the faces of all who attended.
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テレワークが広く普及してきたことから、「中くらいの2本脚のパソコンテーブル」が売れています。 コンパクトなサイズながらソファーで快適にフルサイズのノートパソコンがお使いいただけます。 二本足なので足元はスッキリ邪魔にならないデザインです。 テーブル右には長時間マウスを使っていても疲れない傾斜マウススタンド、左には万一こぼしてもパソコンを守れるドリンク置きサブ天板がアタッチメントとして付属しています。 無垢の木材を削り出してオイルフィニッシュで仕上げたこのテーブルはどこにでも持ち運べるようとても軽く作っています。 コロナウィルスの拡散で外出もままならない世相ですが、お住まいで快適にお仕事ができるよう2本脚のテーブルは応援します。 お買い上げはこちら: https://www.creema.jp/item/7560175/detail #工房黒坂製作所 #テレワーク #在宅勤務 #2本脚テーブル #ソファーテーブル #パソコンデスク #リモートワーク
Some of the popular hashtags being used on Instagram alongside #RemoteWork #Telework #Telecommuting etc. include the following:
- #コロナに負けるな (#DontLoseToCoronavirus)
- #コロナウイルスが早く終息しますように (#MayTheCoronavirusEndSoon)
- #コロナに負けない (#IWontLoseToCoronavirus)
- #ワンランク上の生活 (#PutLifeUpANotch)
- #同一労働同一賃金 (#EqualPayForSameWork)
- #働き方改革 (#WorkStyleReform)
- #副業ママ (#SideGigMama)
Of all social communication platforms, YouTube seems to be the best placed for Japanese workers and employers to get in-depth tutorial videos on services like Zoom and Slack, as well as comparisons (merits and demerits) between various remote working tools. Japanese like a lot of explanation and guidance, especially if they are completely unfamiliar with a concept. This is key for a new concept like Japan remote work.
Freee, one of Japan’s leading cloud-based accounting apps released an ad relating to remote work on 9th March communicating the perils of travelling regularly to an office via public transport, and then showing a range of individuals working from the comfort of their own homes, and introducing the app as a solid accounting solution for anyone. As a solid endorsement, it also features Caster CEO Shota Nakagawa.
Why does Japan need remote work?
Research conducted in 2019 by GOWiDE, Inc.’s remote work service Shigotoba found that the top reasons Japanese want to work remotely are for childcare (28.9%) and to reduce commuting time (28.1%). Very few people surveyed said they didn’t want the option to work remotely (0.9%). The company’s research also concluded that companies offering more flexible working conditions for employees attract a wider subset of interested applicants. GOWiDE aims to make teleworking a viable option for every worker.
In an article on the topic for Business Insider Japan, author Sachiho Imi says that Japanese companies trying to onboard staff remotely often make the mistake of attempting to conduct ‘business as usual’ when they’re addressing this type of change and starting to use remote tools. Instead of doing this, she says they should focus on finding the best new ways to work remotely utilising the resources at their disposal. She also notes that any initial disadvantages of remote work can be superseded by the unique qualities the working style brings to the table (or lack thereof).
It’s important to remember that Japanese companies generally tend to reward employees by seniority or number of years spent on the job, rather than having a performance-based remuneration and promotion setup. This may well be one of the factors that has contributed to the slow uptake of remote working in the past. But now is a great time for Japan to reap the benefits of a more flexible working style. At the core, there’s a fundamental disconnect between companies frightened to fully, or even partially, implement remote working as it is still widely perceived (without justification) as being a productivity killer.
In line with the Japanese government’s long-term goals, namely increasing the birth rate, creating more flexibility for women, and the Japanese government has frustrated employees who want the option to be able to work from home when desired.
The Tokyoesque team would love to hear from remote working solutions looking at the Japanese market for international expansion opportunities. Get in touch to arrange a free consultation!