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Reverse trend in teleworking starting to appear in Japan

17 Comments
By Michael Hoffman
Photo: iStock/monzenmachi

The revolution fizzled.

Telework as a concept goes back to the 1970s. Twenty years later it was being said, “Work is something you do, not something you go to.” The history of work had come, it seemed, full circle – beginning  in remote times at home, shifting after long ages to factories, from there to offices, now back home. The office was obsolescent. Withering with it were its attendant nuisances: commuting, office hours, office politics, office etiquette, dress codes, tensions, friction. We’d stay home, work our own hours, wear our own clothes, be ourselves, work better, live freer, be happier.

A slow but steady evolution gathered speed, became a revolution, propelled forward by a global pandemic. The Japanese government urged it on: 70 percent of work should be telework, it said. Telework was the future; the office, the past.

It sparked but didn’t catch fire. The office isn’t dead yet – at least not in Japan. Maybe it’s not even dying. Maybe telework is.

What went wrong? Sociologist Yohei Tsunemi, writing in Spa (Dec 27), cites his wife as an example. She’s an IT professional – a natural candidate for telework, you’d think, but a year and a half of it seems to have defeated her. It just didn’t feel right. At the office you see people around you, you know what’s happening, are part of it. Home alone, she was at sea. She felt unspoken demands being made of her, unspoken expectations she couldn’t interpret or respond to, unseen eyes watching her. At the office, you’d say something to someone or to a group and see from facial expressions and body language how it was being taken. Online communication lacks that element. You’ve no idea what the other person is thinking or feeling. You become anxious, timid, shrinking from saying anything for fear of being misunderstood.

Another problem: she wasn’t moving, wasn’t getting any exercise. She got to the point of seeking medical help, and was diagnosed with mild adjustment disorder.

Telework was supposed to raise productivity. All it raises in fact, says Tsunemi, is work loads. You’re never off the job, he says. That complaint has persisted since the dawn of  the online revolution, but office hours, however porous, at least set some boundaries. Private life was tenuous but maintained at least a shadowy existence which telework threatens.

Some, of course, thrive on it. But a reverse trend is evident, Spa finds. Some major Japanese corporations – Rakuten among them – have scaled down telework time in favor of more office hours. Honda has all but abandoned it altogether, resuming a five-day office work week.

How alone with our work do we want to be? How alone is it good for us to be? Much was made, in the early days of the pandemic, of the supposed virtues of online university study. Professors would lecture online to students listening online. It solved the infection problem, and was touted at first as preferable to crowded lecture halls – but is it? Spa points to a steady rise among students of depression and quitting school.

Somewhere there’s a happy medium between the need for privacy and the need for community. We don’t seem to  have found it yet.

© Japan Today

©2023 GPlusMedia Inc.

17 Comments
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So, Honda, Rakuten (somewhat) and somebody's wife are the data for this reversal? Are there any numbers?

8 ( +11 / -3 )

The oyajis sitting at the head of each department table risk losing all meaning to their existence if telework is allowed to continue. Therefore the general trend will be a return to the office.

3 ( +11 / -8 )

Most people are quite sociable, especially kids and students. Once the novelty wore off, the negatives rapidly outweighed the benefits for many.

Others found that their family dynamic/marriage/sanity relied on them not all being trapped in the same compound together 24/7. School and work needed to be away from home. Home needed to be a sanctuary from both. For those in abusive environments, enforced homeworking was a lot tougher and a lot more painful.

A minority of those that can, will be happier with permanent homeworking, a fair chunk will want to spend a bit more time at home than they used to, and the rest will want to go back to something approaching the 'old normal'.

Flexibility is the real benefit that we can take from this. Those who would like to be at home a bit more because they have kids, elderly parents, are ill or are disabled, have a viable option they can request.

Outside of a pandemic, security and insurance issues will also kick in. Keeping stuff within a controlled environment can be quite important.

However, if you record a stream when homeworking, you have evidence of abuse. That's tougher in the office unless you wear a camera. So, swings and roundabouts. One size does not fit all.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Workers, for the most part, prefer WFH. Management, for the most part, prefer in-office, especially in Japan, where time spent at the workplace is often viewed as the primary gauge of how much work you are doing.

And middle managers, in almost any country, worry about being outed as unnecessary flotsam that they are without people in the office to "manage".

6 ( +6 / -0 )

I work from home and go to the office only a couple days a month for team syncs..very effective and gives sufficient "sense of community". What blows my mind is those days I go to the office the trains are jammed and packed like sardines with hardly any breathing room..is this a healthy "sense of community"? WFH needs to be a part of the culture enough at least to ease these commuting nightmares but I realize is an uphill battle with the Japan culture of just being in the office to show how hard one is working (yeah right..I see many reading newspapers, napping, web surfing).

5 ( +6 / -1 )

I used to work 2-3 days from home long before the pandemic.

But being in office, 2-3 days played for the interactions with the other team members and also office gossips etc.

When I had to work al 5 days from home, I missed the comrade between the team remembers and face to face talks and resolving problems and issues together in the office.

A lot of major companies in the USA have gone back to full or partial office days as productivity took a dive with the teleworking.

I prefer the hybrid system of work as long as all the work is done.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

I have worked from home for decades. It needs strong discipline and a sense to get the work done and avoid all the possible distractions like friends calling around because they know you are in. Being very strict with meals and not eating between.

Exercise is important even just going out for a walk or gardening. Local gym.

I have been at home for more than 30 years 24/7. I never worked for anyone.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

This is of course nothing that only happens in Japan, but for this country the problem may be complicated by the culture, people are hardwired to seek approval in their peers and superiors to pathological levels and obviously can't do that as easily when working from home, nobody to "complain" about having to work late all week, or bringing work home, etc.

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

This is of course nothing that only happens in Japan, but for this country the problem may be complicated by the culture,

No. In Japan this problem is the culture.

-7 ( +1 / -8 )

Yes, bring back the nomikais and the matsuris

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

No. In Japan this problem is the culture.

Your comment makes no sense, the whole culture of the country is based on not being able to telework? what evidence do you have for this?

5 ( +6 / -1 )

No. In Japan this problem is the culture.

lol. I can't figure out what you mean. Please explain. Lol.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

She felt unspoken demands being made of her, unspoken expectations she couldn’t interpret or respond to, unseen eyes watching her.

This is the evidence the sociologist Mr. Tsunemi presents to argue against telework? Anecdotal evidence from his wife?

More academically rigorous studies would seem to contradict his findings.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I think another big thing we are all forgetting is the housing situation in Japan. For many people in the west it is easy to set up a home office in a bedroom or some other space. Here in Japan, if you have a couple living in a 1dk apartment there is no space for them at all. Also, since the pandemic has started I have had to switch some of my company classes online, but it is not the same, as mentioned you cannot judge how people really feel or react as you are seeing them through a screen. I await the day we can return to fully interacting with everybody!

1 ( +1 / -0 )

“ Telework was supposed to raise productivity. All it raises in fact, says Tsunemi, is work loads. You’re never off the job, he says. That complaint has persisted since the dawn of the online revolution, but office hours, however porous, at least set some boundaries. Private life was tenuous but maintained at least a shadowy existence which telework threatens. “

This.

“ Somewhere there’s a happy medium between the need for privacy and the need for community. We don’t seem to have found it yet. “

Oh yes, there is, but everyone’s still afraid of it; the four-day workweek is the solution; thirty two hours, my friends…;

(this reduction has been proven to work for employees and employers. COVID-19 made it clear we can find a better balance between work and life. Eighty five percent of US adults already approve of moving to a four day week)

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Some jobs involve lots of teamwork, others don't. The latter are more suited to teleworking than the former.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

you’d say something to someone or to a group and see from facial expressions and body language how it was being taken. Online communication lacks that element.

No different from coworkers wearing masks.

Another problem: she wasn’t moving, wasn’t getting any exercise.

Use that extra time not commuting for exercise? Take a morning walk or go to the gym perhaps? It's not like you had tons of exercise going to your work early in the morning and getting off late at night anyways.

Telework was supposed to raise productivity. All it raises in fact, says Tsunemi, is work loads.

No it doesn't. I get my work done much faster now without constant distractions while being at an office and also create some extra time to study or do some quick house chores. If you are receiving extra work that you can't handle, that is your own problem for not speaking up.

You’re never off the job, he says. That complaint has persisted since the dawn of  the online revolution, but office hours, however porous, at least set some boundaries.

What boundaries? The constant stare you get when trying to leave the office before everyone?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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