Establish Ways of Telecommuting that Suit Workers and Management

To prevent the spread of coronavirus infections, it is important to establish ways of working that relieve the anxieties of both companies and employees.

The government has been urging companies to implement telecommuting to reduce the number of people going to workplaces, aiming for a 70% reduction in the 11 prefectures under a state of emergency. Measures to reduce person-to-person contact are important.

However, it is hard to say that corporate efforts to promote telecommuting have been progressing, compared to when the state of emergency was declared in spring last year. In addition to concerns about productivity decline, the difficulty in communicating and tracking working hours may be contributing factors.

A panel of experts from the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry has compiled a report on telecommuting labor management. The ministry intends to review telecommuting guidelines based on the report. It is hoped that the content will be effective, taking into account the current situation of companies.

Firms have a responsibility to manage the working hours of employees. To prevent excessively long working hours, the ministry has asked companies to monitor the working hours of telecommuting employees in principle, using objective records such as personal computer usage.

From the perspective of reducing the burden of both labor and management and increasing the number of telecommuters, the report proposed clarifying that firms will not be held responsible for time management based on self-reporting, as long as it is done in an appropriate manner.

The ministry must consider what kind of management is appropriate to prevent overwork while promoting flexible work styles, including ways employees report their working hours.

Regarding measures for mental and physical health, the report calls for creating an environment in which it is easy to consult with superiors and colleagues.

Telecommuters work alone at their computers and communicate through email and other means. Unlike direct encounters at workplaces, it is difficult to communicate with superiors and colleagues. Some workers have reportedly complained of mounting irritation and anxiety as well as poor mental or physical health due to a lack of progress in their work.

Some information technology-related companies that have adopted a progressive approach to telecommuting set aside 30 minutes a week for employees to chat online with superiors and others. Companies should pay close attention to the health of their employees through such measures.

A survey has shown that the percentage of non-regular employees who telecommute is lower than that of regular employees. If work can be handled without going to workplaces, companies should include non-regular employees in the scope of telecommuting.

There are many occupations in fields such as welfare, logistics and retail for which telecommuting is difficult. It is vital to devise measures to prevent coronavirus infections based on actual work situations, such as introducing staggered commuting hours or dividing assignments into smaller tasks, some of which could be done from home.