Japan’s Corporate Culture: A Barrier to Telework

As the trend for telework grows globally, Japan’s government is challenging companies to increase its prevalence. How is Japan’s corporate culture responding?

January 19, 2021

In Japan, there has been a long-held workplace culture where long hours in the office are perceived as necessary for business success. Grueling and demanding office hours were the norm, as there was a belief that work happens exclusively in the workplace; those not physically present were made to feel guilty. This culture was coupled with a general lack of access to laptops and strict security protocols – creating an environment not conducive to telework. Naohiro Yashiro, a professor at Showa Women’s University in Tokyo, has stated that Japanese employers struggle to evaluate and assess workers appropriately, often evaluating workers exclusively on the number of hours worked.

The current pandemic thrust the world into a telecommuting culture, as a necessity to continue business operations in the midst of lockdowns, quarantines and social distancing requirements. This is coinciding with a large cultural shift taking place in Japan with the government recently announcing that is urging companies to significantly increase telework and embracing flexible work arrangements. In his announcement, Japan’s Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura requested businesses to cut the number of commuting workers by 70% with alternatives like teleworking. Companies are also asked to not have their staff work beyond 8pm, unless there is a special circumstance or exceptions.

While this current urging by the government to encourage telecommuting is in the context of Tokyo’s latest state of emergency in the wake of rising COVID-19 cases, it is not without precedent. Previously, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe urged more flexible work arrangements to make it easier for women with children to hold employment; recruit and retain talent amid a labor shortage; and improve productivity among their significant aging population.

Some Japanese companies turned to teleworking early in the pandemic, breaking their long-standing cultural taboo. With schools forced to shut down in response to the outbreak, millions of parents needed to work from home. However, according to the government more is needed:

We ask you to go further than when you did during the first state of emergency over the novel coronavirus last spring.

Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura

According to a survey conducted by Persol Research and Consulting in July 2020, 71% of respondents said their firms would allow employees to telework if the government declared a state of emergency. However, according to Yuji Kobayashi, principal researcher at Persol, many companies leave the decision regarding whether to telework up to their employees.

If it is up to individuals’ choice, they are left in this vague space. As a result, the total teleworking rate won’t really go up.

Yuji Kobayashi, Principal Researcher, Persol

Even as COVID-19 forces employers and employees in Japan to accept the reality of remote work, not all organizations, or individuals, are prepared or properly equipped. Despite government encouragement, it may take awhile for a more flexible work structure to become a normal, acceptable sustainable business model in the region.

What Should Employers Do?

  • Review your company’s telework policy. Don’t have one? Consider creating one.
  • Actively encourage telework. Knowing there is cultural reticence, ensure that there is clear messaging from leadership, and managers to promote telework. Some companies such as Panasonic, NEC, Fujitsu Ltd., Nomura Holdings Inc. and Mitsubishi mandated or recommended remote work for tens of thousands of employees.
  • Promote flexibility. In the event employees are unable to work from home, facilitate that they arrive/ depart for work during off-peak hours.
  • Communicate the importance of pandemic safety. Citing local state of emergency, restrictions or safety protocols, reinforce that telework, supports public health measures to reduce transmissions.
  • Focus on productivity versus locality. Ensure that employees understand they are being measured not based on number of hours physically present in an office, but rather on the quality of work, and ability to successfully meet expectations.
  • Provide tips on working effectively at home. Recognizing that this is still a new environment for many, offer suggestions on workspace configuration, as well as the importance of work/life separation to avoid the risk of always being “on”.
  • Provide training to managers. Often a manager’s lack of ability in leading a remote team is a deterrent to telework. Train mangers on how to manage a remote team, sustain engagement, and adapt their style as needed.

For more guidance on how to create a successful telework culture at your organization see the Business Group's Telework and Well-being Integration Guide, as well as a number of resources on the right.

  • 1 | Golden TD, Veiga JF. The impact of extent of telecommuting on jobsatisfaction: Resolving inconsistent findings. Journal of Management. 2005;31(2):301-318.
  • 2 | Griffis H. State of remote work 2018 report: What it’s like to be a remote worker in 2018. https://open.buffer.com/state-remote-work-2018/. Accessed on October 12, 2018.
  • 3 | Dahlstrom TR. Telecommuting and leadership style. Public Personnel Management. 2013;42(3):438–451.
  • 4 | Collins M. The (not so simple) case for teleworking: A study at Lloyd's of London. New Technology, Work and Employment. 2005;20(2):115–132.
  • 5 | Golden T. The role of relationships in understanding telecommuter satisfaction. Journal of Organizational Behavior. 2006;27(3):319–340.
  • 6 | Golden T. Co‐workers who telework and the impact on those in the office: Understanding the implications of virtual work for co‐worker satisfaction and turnover intentions. Human Relations. 2007. 60(11):1641–1667.
  • 7 | Collins AM, Hislop D, Cartwright S. Social support in the workplace between teleworkers, office‐based colleagues and supervisors. New Technology, Work and Employment. 2016;31:161-175.
  • 8 | Fonner KL, Roff ME. Why teleworkers are more satisfied with their jobs than are office-based workers: When less contact is beneficial. Journal of Applied Communication Research. 2010;38(4):336-361.
  • 9 | Griffin J. Telecommuting and employee mental health. December 28, 2017. https://www.griffinbenefits.com/employeebenefitsblog/telecommuting-andemployee-mental-health. Accessed on October 15, 2018.
  • 10 | Grzywacz JG, Carlson DS, Shulkin S. Schedule flexibility and stress: Linking formal flexible arrangements and perceived flexibility to employee health. Community, Work & Family. 2008;11(2),199-214.
  • 11 | Eurofound and the International Labour Office. Working anytime, anywhere: The effects on the world of work. Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, and the International Labour Office, Geneva. 2017.
  • 12 | Henke RM; Benevent R; Schulte P; Rinehart C; Crighton AK; Corcoran M. The effects of telecommuting intensity on employee health. American Journal of Health Promotion. 2016; 30(8):604-612.
  • 13| Aumann K, Galinsky E. The 2008 National Study of the Changing Workforce: Family and Work Institute; 2009.
  • 14 | Moen P, Kelly EL, Fan W, et al. Does a flexibility/support organizational initiative improve high-tech employees’ well-being? Evidence from the Work, Family, and Health Network. American Sociological Review. 2016;81(1):134-164.
  • 15 | Dennerlein JT, Johnson PW. Different computer tasks affect the exposure of the upper extremity to biomechanical risk factors. Ergonomics. 2006;49:45-61.
  • 16 | Ellison JK. Ergonomics for telecommuters and other remote workers. Interface. 2012;2:8-11.
  • 17 | Garza JLB, Catalano PJ, Katz JN, Huysmans MA., Dennerlein JT. Developing a framework for predicting upper extremity muscle activities, postures, velocities, and accelerations during computer use: The effect of keyboard use, mouse use, and individual factors on physical exposures. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene. 2012; 9: 691-698.
  • 18 | Hoehner CM, Barlow CE, Allen P, Schootman M. Commuting distance, cardiorespiratory fitness, and metabolic risk. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2012; 42: 571-578.
  • 19 | Global Workplace Analytics. Pros and cons. https://globalworkplaceanalytics.com/pros-cons. Accessed September 6, 2018.
  • 20 | Ingraham C. The astonishing human potential wasted on commutes. The Washington Post. February 25, 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/02/25/how-much-of-your-life-youre-wasting-on-yourcommute/. Accessed August 21, 2018.
  • 21 | Reynolds BW. 6 ways working remotely will save you $4,600 annually, or more. https://www.flexjobs.com/blog/post/6-ways-working-remotely-willsave-you-money/. Accessed September 6, 2018.
  • 22 | Bureau of Labor Statistics. Consumer expenditure—2017. https://www.bls.gov/news.release/cesan.nr0.htm. Accessed September 6, 2018.
  • 23 | Accounting Principals. Employee survey on payroll tax and spending habits. https://www.accountingprincipals.com/employers/employer-resources/workonomix-spending-habits/. Accessed September 6, 2018.
  • 24 | Allen TD, Golden TD, Shockley KM. How effective is telecommuting? Assessing the status of our scientific findings. Psychological Science in the Public Interest. 2015;16(2):40-68.
  • 25 | Anderson AJ, Kaplan SA, Vega RP. The impact of telework on emotional experience: When, and for whom, does telework improve daily affective well-being? European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology. 2014;24(6): 882-897.
  • 26 | Wheatley D. Autonomy in paid work and employee subjective well-being. Work and Occupations. 2017;44(3):296-328.
  • 27 | Gaskell A. Why a flexible worker is a happy and productive worker. Forbes. January 15, 2016. https://www.forbes.com/sites/adigaskell/2016/01/15/why-a-flexible-worker-is-a-happy-and-productive-worker/#3f6ce33a14c4. Accessed on September 16, 2018.
  • 28 | Gajendran RS, Harrison DA. The good, the bad, and the unknown about telecommuting: Meta-analysis of psychological mediators and individual consequences. Journal of Applied Psychology. 2007;92(6):1524-1541
  • 29 | Golden TD, Gajendran RS. Unpacking the role of a telecommuter’s job in their performance: Examining job complexity, problem solving, interdependence, and social support. Journal of Business and Psychology. 2018; doi:10.1007/s10869-018-9530-4.
  • 30 | Agarwal D, Josh B, Lahiri G, Schwartz J, Volini E. The rise of the social enterprise: 2018 Deloitte global human capital trends. 2018.
  • 31 | Make Montana Home. https://makemontanahome.org/. 2018. Accessed on October 24, 2018.
  • 32 | Japan urges businesses to promote teleworking. https://hrmasia.com/japan-urges-businesses-to-promote-teleworking January 13, 2021.

More Topics

Articles & Guides icon_right_chevron_dark Asia Pacific (APAC) icon_right_chevron_dark Leave & Flexible Work Arrangements icon_right_chevron_dark
More in Global