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Japan's push for telework hoped to ease traffic during Olympics

Yuko Horio, who heads Japan Airlines Co.'s corporate brand division, participates in a teleconference from her home in Tokyo, on July 23, 2018. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- A government-led campaign began Monday to encourage more companies to introduce telework, with hopes that letting employees work away from the office could help ease traffic congestion during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

Around 2,000 companies and organizations are expected to join the "Telework Days" promotion, which will run through Friday. But experts say many companies remain reluctant to spend on video teleconference systems and other necessary infrastructure.

The government launched the initiative last year, joined by some 950 entities. It then designated July 24 -- the date on which the 2020 Games will open -- as Telework Day.

Japan Airlines Co. is among the companies taking part in this year's campaign. Yuko Horio, who heads the airline's corporate brand division, attended an in-house meeting using a video telephone from her home in Tokyo after sending her three children out for the day.

"Usually I come home late. But by using telework, it is easier to secure time for communication with my children," said Horio, 48.

Ricoh Co. expanded its telework system in April to cover all of its 8,000 employees, of whom more than 1,500 currently use it. The printer and camera maker had previously allowed employees who need to take care of children or elderly parents to work from home.

Mobile carrier KDDI Corp. has started allowing employees to work at a shared office space.

A government survey showed, however, that only 13.9 percent of companies with 100 or more employees introduced telework in 2017, according to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

"Costs for initial investment such as on video telephones have become a bottleneck," said Mika Togashi, secretary general of the Japan Telework Association.

During the Olympics, around 8 million people are expected to move around and between the areas where venues, the athletes' village and press center are located, and 2.4 million during the Paralympics, according to the government.

The initiative to promote telework also comes as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pushing for flexible workstyles to address the nation's chronically long working hours and improve productivity amid the shortage of labor.

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