In 20 years, will “going to work” be a thing of the past? In 100, will the phrase even be comprehensible?
Hidetsugu Kamei, a 42-year-old Fujitsu executive, is a harbinger of the day when work and home will have merged. He “teleworks.” Computers, webcams, headphones and microphones enable him to attend meetings, instruct subordinates and handle office routine without leaving the house. The technology is not new, but the concept is, at least in Japan, which, says Shukan Gendai (Nov 8), lags far behind the pacesetting U.S. in this regard.
The push came last year from then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who set a goal of doubling the teleworking population and, by 2010, having it total 20% of the nation’s workforce. Major corporations seem to like the idea. Besides Fujitsu, IBM Japan, NEC, Panasonic and NTT, among others, have all adopted some variation of it.
The hour-long commute to work, once the bane of Kamei’s existence, no longer cuts into his family life. “I get up at the same time I always did,” he tells Shukan Gendai, “but now after breakfast, I take the kids to the park and we play for a while. When work’s done for the day, the kids and I go shopping, or we rent a car and go for a drive. That’s the great thing about teleworking for me: time with my family.”
It seems the answer to a lot of prayers. If it spreads, it will thin rush hour traffic, reduce stress, allow time not only with children but with the rapidly rising number of aged parents. For employers, it represents savings in overhead and benefits from government tax breaks designed to promote the concept.
NEC, which introduced a teleworking system on a trial basis in July 2006, lately conducted a survey of 200 employees who have taken advantage of it. They use it sparingly -- only twice a month on average, “when the work I’m doing requires special concentration,” say 62%, or “for child-rearing or to care for elderly relatives,” say 15%.
This suggests a less than frantic flight from the office. Old habits die hard. “Face-to-face communication is ingrained in Japan’s corporate culture,” explains an NEC official. “Important arrangements don’t seem to gel without it” -- and faces on a computer screen are not, or do not yet seem, quite the real thing.
Panasonic executive Satoshi Yamamoto, 53, lives in Tochigi Prefecture, just under two hours by shinkansen from his Tokyo office. He teleworks twice a week, having converted a corner of the bedroom into a study where his family knows better than to disturb him. He gets up earlier on his teleworking days -- 4 a.m. instead of 5:15, and 6:40, when he’d normally be boarding his train, finds him instead riding his Road Racer bicycle along a river.
“Two or three hours of slow cycling burns fat and prevents metabolic syndrome,” he tells Shukan Gendai. “I ride roughly 70 km, come home, take a shower, have a leisurely breakfast. I feel better for it, and work goes more smoothly.”
When he first started teleworking last year, his wife said to him, “Don’t go out into the garden, the neighbors will think you’ve been laid off.” By now they, and a lot of other people, have gotten used to the idea.© Japan Today