Before the pandemic, Tsutomu Kojima “had never thought about telecommuting”, but now he does not want to do without it: even in Japan, a country with long office hours, flexible working is slowly becoming the norm.
Although his job as a salesperson for Hitachi is based in Tokyo, the 44-year-old father has been working every day from his home in Nagoya, 340 km west of the capital, since the outbreak of covid-19 in 2020.
“The children are very happy. I have more time to help them with homework or classes. The youngest has told me that she wants to continue like this,” she told AFP.
A contrast to his situation before the pandemic, when he moved alone to the Tokyo area after a change in the company and only saw his family every other weekend: “I felt very lonely.”
Kojima believes his productivity has increased by avoiding commuting time. Telecommuting has also made him see that he doesn’t have to sacrifice everything for his career.
“Don’t give up on your family, that’s the balance,” he says.
– ‘A positive shock’ –
Due to its culture, Japan has long been hostile to telecommuting.
Just 9% of Japanese workers worked remotely before the pandemic, compared to 32% in the United States and 22% in Germany, according to data from the Nomura Research Institute.
Traditionally, in Japan “work must be done face-to-face, on paper” and important documents must be stamped by hand, Hiroshi Ono, a sociologist specializing in human resources at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo, told AFP.
“Before covid, it was more important for employees to show that they worked hard than to produce real results,” he adds.
“Covid was a positive shock to the Japanese way of working,” revealing its many sources of inefficiency, says Ono, who believes “this country needs a little more flexibility.”
Telecommuting in Japan peaked at 31.5% in the spring of 2020.
Although it has since declined, it is still well above pre-pandemic levels (20% in April 2022), according to quarterly surveys by the Japan Productivity Center.
More and more Japanese appreciate telecommuting and feel more efficient with this tool, according to various studies.
– Exodus of the Tokyoites –
In an attempt to remain attractive, more and more large Japanese companies are becoming more flexible with their employees, allowing them to work just four days a week or forgoing regular geographic relocation.
Some 350 companies moved their headquarters outside of the Tokyo metropolitan area in 2021, a record number, according to research firm Teikoku Databank.
The capital’s population also fell last year, for the first time in 26 years.
Kazuki and Shizuka Kimura, a young couple who work in the communication and marketing sector, decided this year to leave their small apartment in Tokyo and moved to a cozy house they built in Fujisawa, southwest of the capital, near the ocean. .
“It was really the covid that decided us,” Kazuki Kimura, 33, told AFP, happy to have started learning to surf in his spare time.
“I think there are more and more people who think about their happiness more than their work,” says Shizuka Kimura, 29.
“But in reality, nothing can change in the blink of an eye (…), there will be debates in companies,” he says.
In addition, inequalities are likely to increase in Japan, especially since small and medium-sized companies (excluding start-ups) take longer to adapt to new working methods, warns Hiromi Murata, an expert at the Recruit Works Institute.
“Before it was so important to meet in the office (…). Each company has to find its new balance, in its own way and at its own pace,” he concludes.