Americans love to telecommute. 34 percent of Americans work at least 4 days a week from home. Only 4 percent of Japanese work from home at least one day per week. The Japanese government wants this to change. Why? Two big reasons: To increase productivity and to prepare for the influx of visitors for the 2020 summer Olympics.
The reasons behind the government's push for telecommuting are also gaining urgency. Japan has long had a productivity problem--its workers spend among the most hours in the office in the world but are not particularly productive (paywall). Its workforce is also shrinking. But the recent death of an employee at Japan's largest advertising company allegedly due to overwork, and a grave childcare crisis, are putting more pressure on Abe's government to address corporate Japan's problems.
With a million people expected for the 2020 Summer Olympics, Tokyo is taking a test run today, July 24, and asking people to work from home, in order to ease congestion on public transportation.
While many Americans want to work from home, the culture in Japan is different, and people are hesitant to work from home. Face time is extremely important in Japanese culture (hence the long hours but low productivity). The company would like to fix that. It's healthier to have high productivity and shorter hours and better for the economy as well.
Telecommuting Allows You to Choose Your Lifestyle
I work from home, and actually today, I'm working at my sister's home, in my hometown, of St. George, Utah. St. George has almost tripled in size since I left home 25 years ago. I asked my brother, a St. George real estate appraiser who is very tuned into the growth, what on earth people do for a living in a town with few big businesses. He said a lot of the growth is from telecommuting. People want to move back to a place they think will be good for their families and they work from companies from all over the country to do that.
Telecommuting can allow you to base your lifestyle on how you want to live and not just on where you can get a job.
Some companies, like IBM and the now broken up Yahoo!, made a push to bring everyone back into the office. While they surely have their reasons, productivity tends to increase when telecommuting is allowed. The Harvard Business Review reported on a randomized study which found that those who worked at home were less likely to quit, happier, and more productive. All three of those things should be what businesses are aiming for.
Better for the Environment
Japan is famous for its crowded trains. Now, using public transportation is better than driving your own car, but working at home also has benefits. Yes, you are using more electricity at home than you would if the whole family was gone all day, but you're not polluting the air with your car.
Face Time Does Not Equal Performance
Managing by face times is easy. "Is Bob here? Then he's the best!" If you have everyone working remotely, you have to look at performance. Sure, you can see if someone is logged in, but you can't see if they are watching television or playing with the baby. Some managers freak out at that thought. But, you can tell how well Bob does his job. If he can do it in fewer hours, more power to him.
Japanese culture will need to change for them to embrace telecommuting, and that's something the government is hoping for. Let's hope it works.