Despite the UK government’s announcement that companies can allow employees to return to their workplaces from August 1st 2020, the Royal Bank of Scotland told 50,000 of its staff to continue working from home until 2021. A friend who travels into their City of London office once a week tells me it is still eerily quiet and only essential staff are coming in. Lifts can only take 1 person at a time and half of the toilet cubicles have been shut down. A British architect has predicted that this will mean the end of the high-rise office building in London as many firms are making changes for the long-term. Some smaller City firms have shut their office permanently, and others are sub-letting their office space to other businesses.
I see similar trends in Japan too, judging by announcements from banks such as Mizuho or ICT companies such as Fujitsu, wanting to accelerate their digital transformation.
When I was a UK-based employee of Fujitsu ten years’ ago, I used to work from home quite regularly. My team was scattered across the world anyway, so most meetings were done by teleconferencing. Working from home is already well embedded in Europe. For people with children where both parents are working, it is often the only practical solution.
Most people who work in London and have children cannot afford to live centrally, so have long, crowded commutes – just like in Japan. They have no intention of being made to ride on a packed train until a coronavirus vaccine is commonly available.
But there is a generation gap in Europe with regard to working from home, which companies will have to address. Younger, single employees, despite being “digital natives”, are finding working from home very stressful. Partly it is to do with loneliness – for young singles, the workplace represents a vital social life. It is also to do with trust. More senior employees have already built relationships with their co-workers and are confident in their own abilities. Younger people lack that confidence and have not had enough time to prove themselves to their colleagues.
There is also the problem of the environment for working from home. More senior workers have bigger houses. Whereas many young Londoners share houses and flats with other young people. They may have a very small bedroom and no communal rooms apart from a kitchen.
This issue is true for city dwellers in Japan as well of course – a 1 bedroom apartment may have no space for a desk or the possibility of shutting the door on noise and distractions.
But it seems there is one dissimilarity between Japan and Europe – which is that middle aged people in Japan find working from home stressful too. As managers, they have been used to evaluating staff on the amount of effort put in, rather than results, and communicating through horenso and ishindenshin. None of these approaches work well remotely. Digital transformation is going to be as much about managing people as managing ICT.
This article originally appeared in Japanese in The Teikoku Databank News on 12 August 2020
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