Japan’s firms adapt to remote working

The COVID-19 pandemic has driven many companies to shift to remote working, causing a significant sea change in Japan’s way of working.

Leading snack maker Calbee decided in June to stop transferring employees for an unaccompanied posting. About 800 people at the firm’s head office in Tokyo and at regional sales branches were allowed to return home to their families, as long as it would not affect the business.

The move came after the company started requiring employees to work from home in late March because of the coronavirus pandemic. Calbee was already well ahead of the pack in adjusting to telecommuting. The firms introduced it six years ago. But when the coronavirus hit, it decided to go one step further and promote workstyle changes.

Living away from home for work has long been a common practice in Japan. When workers get transferred, many of them move alone, without their families.

Calbee spokesperson Makuuchi Rie says: “By promoting new ways of working that do not confine employees to assigned workplaces, we can free our employees from the inconvenience of living away from their families.”

In-house inspiration

Food maker Kewpie saw a new activity spring up while its employees were remote working. “Recipe Relay” sees a worker think of a recipe using the company’s products, and send it to two colleagues. The colleagues who receive the idea add their thoughts, opinions or their own ideas, then pass it on to other workers within three days.

The idea, which was developed by young employees in Tokyo, grew into a cross-departmental project involving senior managers before spreading to other offices around the country. Kewpie says some of the ideas have already led to the development of new products.

Spokesperson Murai Ayako says: “Many of our employees joined the company because they were interested in food. Since they are now working from home, they seem to have more time to turn their minds to food or cooking.”

Key to successful teleworking

But not all companies are happy about staff working from home. Temp-staff firm Adecco surveyed 300 people in managerial positions who have introduced teleworking since April. They found that 73% “want subordinates to continue teleworking,” but 36.3% felt “time to communicate with subordinates has been reduced due to teleworking.”

Among the companies already addressing the issue is Salesforce. All of its employees now work remotely, and the firm has come up with a way to motivate them and boost morale. It monitors the internal chat system for words of appreciation or encouragement, then shares a ranking with all employees.

The firm got the idea for the system from a remote office it opened in Shirahama Town, Wakayama Prefecture, five years ago. The company discovered that casual communication among the small team during work or in private improved productivity.

Yoshino Takao, the head of the Shirahama office, says: “Advances in information technology have provided us with tools to work from home as smoothly as in the office, but the tools don’t give us encouragement or motivation. A mechanism that helps us communicate casually, as though we were in the same office, is even more important when employees are working remotely. I think creating an environment where workers can feel comfortable is the key to successful teleworking.”