The UK government allowed companies to encourage their staff to return to work from mid-July 2021. There are conflicting views in government, however, about whether flexible working should be the default from now on. Some worry that a permanent reduction in commuting will hit those businesses which rely on commuters for income, such as the train companies, sandwich shops, and office landlords.
British employees have been able to request flexible working since 2003. I used to work from home 2 or 3 days a week 10 years’ ago. My team was global, so most of them were based in other countries. Our team meetings were via teleconferencing, which I preferred to do from home than having to commute 1.5 hours into the office to start the call at 8:00am. I still found it important to be in the office at least two if not three days’ a week, however. I needed to interact with my peers, both for gossip on office politics and in order to be creative, to swap ideas and insights.
A survey by the Institute of Directors shows that 63% of UK business leaders are planning to shift their workforce towards hybrid working – asking employees to work from home anywhere between 1 to 4 days a week.
British employers are of course concerned about the impact on mental and physical health, data security and productivity that remote working might have. The latter seems to be even more of a concern for Japanese employers. A Lenovo Japan survey shows that 40% Japanese employers think that working from home will reduce productivity, compared to only 11-15% of European employers.
I suspect this is because Japanese employers are used to the collaborative, co-located way of working where employees can immediately turn to their bosses or colleagues for support or to exchange ideas.
European teams where there is a lot of creative work also need to be co located. If they have to work remotely, an investment needs to be made in advance in team building events, to develop strong bonds of trust between team members so they can communicate easily with each other.
Boston Consulting Group recommends such “creative collaborators” should be in the office 50-60% of the time. Other categories they propose include those who require focus without too many interruptions, for example people working in accounts. This group could work remotely 50-80% of the time. Those whose work follows defined processes and patterns, so do not need much support, can work almost entirely from home. And of course there is the group who have to be physically present to do their jobs, in factories or physically interacting with customers, so cannot work remotely.
If Japanese companies adopt these categories to enable a hybrid approach to flexible working, they will have to adopt what in Japan is being called a “job gata system”, where the job scope, place of work and hours of work are clearly laid out in a contract. Insisting on the same working conditions for all employees, regardless of job content, will not be possible in this new style of work.
This article by Pernille Rudlin was first published in Japanese in the Teikoku News, 9th June 2021
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