“Teleworking is hell,” say some – not all. Positive thinkers value it for its freedom from office commuting and office routine. There are those who see it as the wave of the future, outliving the deadly pandemic that is forcing it on us now. Its survival would mean an unprecedented fusion of private and working life.
Spa! (Nov 24 – Dec 1) pours cold water on that. It’s not that telework can’t work. It can – for employers and employees temperamentally suited to it and able to make the requisite adjustments. Sometimes the failure to do so rests with the company, sometimes with the individual staffer. Maybe the pitfalls cited are characteristic of any road leading from old to new. Be that as it may, it’s easy to sympathize with the midlevel IT executive caught between the rock of his superiors and the hard place of his subordinates. The rules he must enforce are not his, but the strain of their enforcement on unwilling subordinates is. At issue here is a company rule requiring half the staff to be at the office while half work remotely.
It sounds simple but it’s quite a balancing act, he says. Which members of which work teams should be called in while the others stay home? “I try to get the staff members with small children at home to come in while the younger single people stay home,” he explains, “but the numbers don’t work out, and then I get called down for it.”
Touted as a time-saver, telework is often the very opposite. It has a way, says an IT staffer in his 20s, of overflowing all working-hour limitations, flowing into off-hours and leading to unpaid overtime. An appliance maker employee in his 30s agrees. “All the things that you normally communicate by word of mouth,” he says, “have to be written out.” Writing, if only because it can be read and reread and studied for nuances, has to be carefully done, “with attention paid to every word.” That’s time taken away from other things – stress piled on stress.
Meetings, often considered the bane of Japanese corporate life, were one problem telework was expected to solve. In practice, it seems, far from eliminating or minimizing them, telework has merely shifted them online. A virtual meeting can be a draining ordeal, Spa!’s sources testify. Security precautions need to be taken. Multiple windows need to be opened onscreen, leading to confusion and sometimes server breakdown. And – worst of all, perhaps – what do you do when the discussion runs dry?
“Meetings via Zoom to generate ideas are pathetic,” says a dispatch worker in her 30s. “It happens every time. Suddenly no one has anything to say. Face to face you fill the gaps with small talk. Onscreen, we sit there staring at each other. It’s awful.”
Some homes, and some families, make congenial telework impossible. “My wife says to me, ‘You’re home again today?’” The 42-year-old appliance maker employee grits his teeth. It’s not his fault, but yes, he’s home again today. From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. he can use his third-grade daughter’s homework desk. She gets home from school and promptly throws him out of her room. “So I take my things, go into the 4-mat storeroom, and work sitting on the floor. It’s hell on my back.”
Adding insult to injury is the surveillance app in the office computer he uses. “It keeps a record of how much time I spend on each program, and my boss calls me to account. It’s like having the company in my house with me, watching my every move.”
The virus playing hell with our lives and the economy has been perversely kind, Spa! observes in passing, to at least one sector. Home cleaning agencies are thriving. The typical client is young, single, living in a one-room apartment and not much of a housekeeper. Dirt and trash pile up – disregarded normally, but telework imposes new standards. What if the disorder shows up onscreen? Colleagues and clients alike might recoil. It won’t do.© Japan Today