Japan Businesses must Devise Ways to Maintain Efficiency in Teleworking

As an increasing number of companies have introduced teleworking as coronavirus infections rise, problems have come to light such as how to maintain productivity and evaluate workers’ results. It will surely be necessary to make flexible responses depending on the type of business and how infections are spreading.

Amid the third wave of infections, the government has again asked the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren) and other economic organizations to promote telecommuting.

The Tokyo Chamber of Commerce and Industry surveyed member companies, finding in March that 26% of respondents said they implemented teleworking, while from May to June it increased to 67.3%. However, from September to October, this had fallen to 53.1%.

These results indicate that while telecommuting took root to a certain extent after a state of emergency was declared in April, quite a few companies have returned to business as usual.

Many of the respondents that once introduced telecommuting but now have suspended it explained that they found teleworking had reduced productivity.

According to a survey of workers conducted in October by the Japan Productivity Center, about 70% of respondents said they were satisfied with working from home but about 50% said they had been able to increase their work efficiency. There must be some people who find it hard to concentrate as perhaps in their small residences children are also present.

Many respondents expressed concerns over whether work results could be fairly evaluated and said they found it difficult to manage work hours, according to the survey. Many others said they felt concerned about company communications, because they could not get instructions from their supervisors or senior colleagues.

If this is the case, there is likely a limit to telecommuting taking root after the pandemic is contained.

Telework has also been expected to help reduce congestion for commuters and for the time not spent commuting to be effectively used for work or leisure.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry should present easier-to-understand guidelines regarding labor management, personnel evaluations, health maintenance and cost burdens including communications fees, based on problems that have been revealed as many companies have introduced teleworking.

While some industries and professions can make it easier for workers to start telecommuting, such as those related to the tech sector, others cannot, such as sales staff who focus on face-to-face communications with customers, and medical workers who take care of patients.

A good combination of commuting to work and working from home should help telecommuting take root. With the management and labor sides both devising ideas, companies are encouraged to explore working styles that can suit the realities of their operations.

At some companies that started teleworking in haste, employees have been forced to use home computers and communications devices and there are many cases in which the companies have been harmed by cyber-attacks. The central and local governments must continue to provide support for cybersecurity measures at small and midsize enterprises.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Dec. 10, 2020.