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Companies downsizing offices, keeping teleworking even as COVID-19 spread slows in Japan

The floor of the company Activ8 Inc., seen here on June 4, 2020, in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward, is large enough to seat about 100 people. Employees are now working from home as a general rule. (Mainichi/Kenji Noro)

TOKYO -- As teleworking spreads as a result of the novel coronavirus outbreak, the move to relocate or downsize offices has been progressing at a quick pace in the nation's capital. The realization that there is no need to be at the office to complete regular work has more companies choosing to have staff work away from the office.

Venture Property is a company based in Tokyo's Shinagawa Ward that provides services that minimize the cost and time it takes to relocate offices. It began a new service in August 2019 called Tobitatsu, and until the end of 2019, the company received only a few inquiries per month regarding the service. However, the number of queries began to surge around February 2020 when the effects of the coronavirus outbreak began to spread in Japan. In April, the company received 28 inquiries, of which 20 became clients, and in May, it received 65 queries, of which 46 became clients.

"There are people who come to us with the urgent need to find a way to cut back on their rent due to poor performance resulting from the outbreak, but most people who consult with us and are in businesses where teleworking is possible are considering long-term changes of downsizing their office spaces or relocating," head of Venture Property Yoshihiro Udagawa said. He added that most relocations were not from the city center to regional areas, but within close proximity to their current offices.

Yamato Human Capital Inc. in Chiyoda Ward, which supports career changes and entrepreneurship, is in the process of relocating its office using Venture Property's Tobitatsu service. The company is reducing the size of its office, after determining that its employees' productivity has improved since teleworking cut commute times. The plan is to rent a small office close to where its current office is, thereby cutting rent by around 80%. Head of the company, Daisuke Horie, said, "Going forward, I expect that whether teleworking is possible will become an important factor in hiring and career changes."

Activ8 Inc., a Shibuya-based company involved in the production, planning and operation of virtual talent, had been renting three floors of a building. But it will have just one floor for a studio and a conference room. Starting in late February, the company had switched its 60 or so employees to either teleworking or staggered working at the office to prevent the spread of infections. The company says that because it now knows that there are no problems in the workflow from teleworking, it was decided that starting June 1, all employees would be working from home as a general rule.

When Activ8 surveyed its employees about satisfaction and productivity on a scale of 1 to 5, 90% responded with a 3 or higher. The company says that by letting go of the two floors, it estimates it will save around 100 million yen (approx. $932,000) annually in rent and utilities. The company's Sosuke Takeuchi said, "There is a lot of work that is done in teams, so we still have the challenge of figuring out how to communicate while teleworking. We hope to solve these challenges using tools such as virtual offices."

Shinjuku-based Spacemarket Inc., an online broker for rental conference rooms and event spaces, conducted an online survey on working styles and offices. The results showed that some 40% of people involved in the decision-making process regarding office rental contracts at their companies were considering reviewing their office space contracts. A representative from Spacemarket predicted, "Since the way people work is diversifying, there will be a demand for diverse options in office spaces."

(Japanese original by Kenji Noro, Regional News Department)

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