(Reuters) Japan on Monday launched a scheme to promote “telework’’ or working from home, in an effort to ease congestion when Tokyo hosts the 2020 Olympics.
The country also intends to soften a notoriously rigid work culture.
Almost 930 companies, including Suntory-Beverage & Food Ltd., Ajinomoto Co and Tokyu-Construction Co are participating in “Telework Day’’, to be held on July 24 each year henceforth until the Olympics opening ceremony set for July 24, 2020.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government has introduced policies to shorten working hours, raise contract workers’ pay and curb abuse of labour laws.
Telework could be another way to reform working practices that some say are behind the times.
“Once the Olympics start, it will be hard to get to work, so we are doing this as an experiment,’’ said Takashi Kozu, 61, president of the Ricoh Institute of Sustainability and Business.
“The lifestyles of younger generations are changing, so firms should offer alternative work styles to maintain employees’ incentive.’’
Kozu said he worked from home on Monday morning, planned to attend an off-site meeting in the afternoon and would not show up in the office until early evening.
Telework is more common in other countries, especially in the information technology sector, where employees regularly use teleconferencing or log on from the neighbourhood cafe.
However, it has been slow to catch on in other industries in Japan, partly because firms have put a lot of emphasis on being physically present at the office, often for 12 hours or more.
But Japan Inc. is starting to change its ways and introduce more flexible work hours.
As the population ages, the labour force is shrinking at an alarming rate, and a hard-driving work culture makes it difficult to attract and retain workers.
Some companies are starting to realise that long, inflexible hours of work actually keep labour productivity low.
In some cases Japan’s working culture can be fatal, and it is not uncommon for workers to commit suicide or suffer a stroke because of excessive hours.
“We are doing this for the Olympics, but the long-term-goal is to have more humane-working-conditions,’’ said Hiroshi Ohnishi, a planner at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which is promoting “Telework Day’’.
“In the past, working long hours was considered a virtue, but this thinking will not hold up in the future.’’