About 90% of major companies in Japan are experiencing difficulties with teleworking, which has become a common work style amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to a survey conducted by The Yomiuri Shimbun.
Among the respondents, about 40% believed the amount of remote working their employees do would decline after the pandemic is brought under control.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has asked the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren) and other organizations to help more people telework, in a bid to reduce the number of commuters by 70%, but achieving this goal appears to be a tall order.
The survey was conducted in June and July. It covered 121 major companies representing various industries, of which 117 companies responded.
A total of 104 companies said they had adopted or expanded teleworking when the state of emergency was first declared in April and May last year. Regarding the situation as of June 1 this year, 63 companies said the amount of teleworking their staff engaged in was “slightly less” than during the first state of emergency.
Asked if they had problems related to teleworking, 49 answered yes, while 57 firms said they had problems to some extent. Combined, these groups accounted for about 90% of all respondents.
With multiple answers allowed as to what specific difficulties they were experiencing, 91 companies, the largest group, cited a “lack of communication among employees.” This was followed by 58 firms referring to “maintaining equipment and a communications environment” and 54 answering “the type of work that can be done through teleworking is limited.”
As for the outlook after the pandemic is brought under control, 43 companies said the amount of teleworking their employees did would be “slightly reduced compared to now,” while three firms said it would be “reduced significantly.”
■ 70% reduction in commuters
In response to the recent rapid spread in infections, Suga met Wednesday and Thursday with the heads of Keidanren, the Japan Association of Corporate Executives (Keizai Doyukai) and the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry to discuss issues related to teleworking.
“There are cases in which we have no option but to go to work to respond to requests from clients, even if they are regarded as nonessential and nonurgent,” said Keizai Doyukai Chairman Kengo Sakurada. “We want the prime minister to send out a message so the public as a whole will understand the need to telework.”
At Thursday’s meeting, Suga asked Sakurada and his association for their cooperation in reducing the number of people commuting to work by 70%. In response, Sakurada stressed the importance of improving the environment.
While teleworking has become common among head office staff, it remains difficult to achieve a 70% reduction in commuters, especially among employees working in sales, at call centers and in other customer service-related jobs.
■ Labor management
According to the survey, 39 companies achieved the 70% reduction sought by the government during the first state of emergency, but only 18 firms were at that level as of June 1 this year. On the other hand, 46 companies reduced the number of their commuters by under 50% this year, up from 33 in 2020.
Some companies decided to reduce their teleworking, citing issues related to communication and labor management. Comments included statements that teleworking “causes poor communication and makes it difficult to generate ideas” and “it is difficult to manage employees’ working hours and health condition.”
Some teleworkers also find it difficult to draw a line between work and private time and tend to end up working long hours. Cases have been reported of teleworkers developing mental and physical ailments due to stress caused by lack of communication.
“It is necessary for companies to thoroughly educate their employees [about teleworking] and take good care of them so they don’t feel anxious,” said Kim Myoungjung, a research fellow at the NLI Research Institute.