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Editorial: While advancing telework in Japan, firms must pay attention to concerns

Teleworking has become more prevalent in Japan in tandem with the spread of the novel coronavirus. Figures released by the Cabinet Office show that 34.6% of people in Japan have experienced working remotely, while in the capital's 23 wards, the figure reaches 55.5%

Electronics giant Fujitsu Ltd. and major Japanese snack maker Calbee Inc. decided to implement telecommuting for office work in principle from July, and it appears that such measures are set to become entrenched even after the coronavirus crisis.

There are some positive offshoots of teleworking that people can look forward to, such as being freed from packed trains, and being able to raise their children and look after elderly family members while on the job. Remote working is also expected to spur new employment in regional areas.

But there are many firms that have implemented teleworking in haste, leaving outstanding issues.

When people take their work computers home and use them from an ordinary home communications environment, the risk of cyberattacks increases. Countermeasures such as preparing networks that company employees alone can use are indispensable.

Moreover, Japanese homes are small, and when working from home, utility and communications expenses increase. We would like to see companies consider providing subsidies for related expenses, opening satellite offices, and other measures.

Work hour management and personnel evaluation changes are also necessary. One advantage of telecommuting is that people can work without being restricted to a certain time frame. Yet a survey conducted by the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, commonly known as Rengo, found that 65.1% of workers did not report overtime work or work they did on their days off. It appears that many employees tend to be conservative in their reports as it is difficult to prove how long they were on-duty when working from home.

To stop people from doing unreported overtime, implementing rules such as having employees email reports and confirming their working conditions as they turn their computers on and off are effective.

When evaluating employees, the tendency to value results over working hours is likely to grow stronger. But when doing this, clearly specifying tasks and targets that match each employee's ability and their working hours is a must.

Consideration must also be given when communicating, as seen from the emergence of such terms as "telework harassment," where superiors harass subordinates in videoconferences through their words or actions. Improper communication can lead to decreased productivity and unfair evaluations.

At the same time, some tasks are easier done face-to-face. Efforts are needed to flexibly differentiate between going to the office and working from home to increase efficiency.

Small- and medium-sized firms have been slow to prepare environments facilitating remote work. They should utilize subsides provided by the government and other means, and proceed with digitalization of work, distributing equipment and abolishing the use of officials seals on documents.

Workplaces are sure to have accumulated telecommuting know-how over the past few months. We hope that labor and management will take the opportunity to put their heads together and establish a new style of working.

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