Please view the main text area of the page by skipping the main menu.

Rise of remote work pushes 44% of major Japanese firms to rethink employee transfers

A person works remotely in this photo taken in Tokyo. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Some 44% of major companies in Japan surveyed by the Mainichi Shimbun have revamped or are considering reviewing their employee transfer systems.

    Remote working has become much more prevalent in Japan due to the coronavirus pandemic, and ways of working not tied to a specific location are gaining ground. This signals a major transformation of the conventional terms of employment in Japan, as even major firms take a hard look at systems allowing workers to live well outside of commuting distance from their office.

    The survey was conducted from early June to early July this year, targeting 126 major Japanese companies in the steel, electrical, automotive, financial, and other industries, and 104 companies responded.

    The companies used to require all transferred workers to physically relocate. However, when asked about what direction their transfer protocols had taken after January 2020, when the coronavirus was first confirmed in Japan, 12 companies including Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. (NTT), JTB Corp. and Mitsubishi Electric Corp. responded that they had revamped their systems. In addition, 34 companies responded that they were "considering" doing so, bringing the total to 46, or about 44%.

    For example, in July 2020, Fujitsu Ltd. established a remote work system allowing employees to work from home without having to move. Meanwhile, Sumitomo Life Insurance Co. allowed employees to select whether to be transferred by changing their job categories.

    Of the 46 companies, 10 said they had reduced or were considering reducing the number of employees subject to transfer, and another 10 cited a deferment system that allows employees to refuse transfers for a certain period of time.

    JTB implemented remote work at almost all workplaces except for over-the-counter sales positions during Japan's first coronavirus state of emergency in the spring of 2020. In October that year, the travel agency announced it would make remote work permanent. It noted that "remote work quickly became widespread under the coronavirus pandemic, and many employees felt that it did not hinder their productivity and work efficiency."

    In addition, many companies are offering the option to work even more remotely. For example, even if a job is based in the greater Tokyo area, employees can live in west Japan's Kansai region, hundreds of kilometers away. Twenty companies have already introduced this system or are considering it. Some introduced a system to limit work locations.

    Japanese-style employment practices such as lifetime employment and the strict seniority system are collapsing, and in some cases, employees are no longer willing to accept transfers. Fifty-eight companies, or more than half, said that within the past five years they have received employee requests to live outside their commuting area and work remotely. Thirty-five firms said that they had employees who had left their jobs because of transfers.

    Madoka Nakano, a journalist with expertise in corporate workstyle reform, suggested that the widespread adoption of remote work due to the coronavirus pandemic has triggered a reevaluation of traditional employee transfer systems.

    (Japanese original by Haruna Okuyama and Ayako Yamagata, Lifestyle and Medical News Department; and Nao Yamada, Digital News Center)

    Also in The Mainichi

    The Mainichi on social media