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US News Work from home, they said. In Japan, it’s not so easy.

08:10  06 april  2020
08:10  06 april  2020 Source:   washingtonpost.com

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In Japan , it ’ s not so easy . The Washington Post 8 hrs ago Simon Denyer. Slideshow by photo services. TOKYO — When it comes to working from home , Japan simply doesn’t get it. “My boss said it loud and clear: ‘If I allow you guys to go home , you might not be focusing on your work .

TOKYO — When it comes to working from home , Japan simply doesn’t get it . In the midst of a coronavirus epidemic, commuter trains in Tokyo are still pretty packed, and many “My boss said it loud and clear: ‘If I allow you guys to go home , you might not be focusing on your work . Who knows?

Slideshow by photo services

TOKYO — When it comes to working from home, Japan simply doesn’t get it.

In the midst of a coronavirus epidemic, commuter trains in Tokyo are still pretty packed, and many companies are acting like nothing’s really changed.

This is a nation where you still have to show up in person.

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Work culture demands constant face-to-face interaction, partly to show respect. Employees typically are judged on the hours they put in rather than they output they produce. Managers don’t trust their staff to work from home, and many companies are just not set up for telework.

“My boss said it loud and clear: ‘If I allow you guys to go home, you might not be focusing on your work. Who knows? You might even be drinking,’ ” said one investment banker, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak frankly.

My first attempts at home office

 My first attempts at home office © provided by Dr. Windows The home office workstation of our colleague Lukas The current situation around Corona requires that we restrict our everyday life. This also means that the vast majority of us no longer drive to work every day, but work from home. So far, I've never worked from home, I'm a newcomer to the home office. In the following lines I would like to describe my first impressions.

a group of people standing in front of a crowd: People wearing face masks wait to cross a road Friday in Tokyo. © Carl Court/AFP/Getty Images People wearing face masks wait to cross a road Friday in Tokyo.

Clients don’t want face-to-face meetings anymore, the banker said, but still his boss thinks the team should be in the office to take their phone calls, just to show them respect.

“Otherwise, my boss says, it’s just giving clients the idea that you’re taking time off and making things easy for yourself,” the banker said. “It’s Japanese pride.”

The uniquely rigid work culture has left this country among the least prepared in the developed world to embrace the new remote-working realities of the coronavirus age.

People wearing face masks amid concerns over the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus wait on the platform for their train at Shinagawa station in Tokyo on April 6, 2020. (Photo by Behrouz MEHRI / AFP) (Photo by BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP via Getty Images) People wearing face masks amid concerns over the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus wait on the platform for their train at Shinagawa station in Tokyo on April 6, 2020. (Photo by Behrouz MEHRI / AFP) (Photo by BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP via Getty Images) To be fair, a few companies have embraced telework. But many haven’t — and the lack of preparation could be a big reason, management consultant Rochelle Kopp says, why Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been reluctant to declare a state of emergency and impose a lockdown, despite a recent surge in infections.

Technology is an important factor. Despite Japan’s high-tech image, it simply isn’t set up to work from home. Like the hare in the fable, it often feels like a country that raced headlong into the future, and then in 1991, took a nap and let everyone else overtake it.

Japanese companies lag their Western counterparts in IT investment, and many are still stuck 20 years in the past, with old software and little awareness of cloud computing or video conferencing tools.

IT departments are so paranoid about protecting intellectual property and confidential client information that they allow employees to access work systems only on office computers.

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Many employees don’t even own laptops — partly because of the risk of losing them during after-work drinking sessions — and many don’t have WiFi at home. Even if they did, many would be forced to work on the dining room table in a cramped Tokyo apartment.

This is a country where businesses still send faxes, and where documents have to be stamped with a seal, or hanko, dipped in ink. Even people working from home have to go into the office to get documents stamped by a manager, according to local media.

Schools have closed, but have little or no provision for online learning.

People wearing face masks amid concerns over the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus walk in Shinagawa station in Tokyo on April 6, 2020. (Photo by Behrouz MEHRI / AFP) (Photo by BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP via Getty Images) People wearing face masks amid concerns over the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus walk in Shinagawa station in Tokyo on April 6, 2020. (Photo by Behrouz MEHRI / AFP) (Photo by BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP via Getty Images) Despite the neon lights and bullet trains, Japan’s broader corporate culture also seems stuck in the past, with widespread discrimination against women and power mostly in the hands of conservative, elderly men.

That culture might explain why one salaryman has to wear shirt, tie and office lanyard while working at his kitchen table, according to media reports, or why one woman had to defy the government’s request to stay home last weekend because she needed a new suit — to wear while working at home.

Meanwhile, the government repeatedly summons journalists to reinforce its anti-virus message — that people should avoid crowded, poorly ventilated spaces where strangers converse for extended periods of time — at news conferences that clearly violate all those conditions.

TOKYO, JAPAN - 2020/04/05: A man wearing a preventive mask as a precaution against the spread of Coronavirus walks past a stock exchange notice board. The Tokyo metropolitan government has again asked residents to stay at home this weekend following a surge of new infections of Coronavirus (COVID-19). (Photo by Viola Kam/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images) © 2020 SOPA Images TOKYO, JAPAN - 2020/04/05: A man wearing a preventive mask as a precaution against the spread of Coronavirus walks past a stock exchange notice board. The Tokyo metropolitan government has again asked residents to stay at home this weekend following a surge of new infections of Coronavirus (COVID-19). (Photo by Viola Kam/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images) Despite repeated entreaties, journalists have been told, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare “has no plans to live stream this news conference.”

Japanese work culture is based around a concept known as ho-ren-sou, an acronym for report-inform-consult. Rather than being given discrete tasks and the autonomy to execute them, subordinates are expected to consult with managers every step of the way.

That’s harder when they’re not in the same location.

Job descriptions tend to be vague, and there’s also a premium on teamwork over individuality. That’s one reason employees tend to be judged on the hours they put in — it’s tougher to evaluate what they produce when everything is a collaboration.

Some of these differences are not necessarily any worse than Western ways of working. But Kopp, who advises Western and Japanese companies how to bridge the cultural divide, said many are long-standing problems that the coronavirus — and the demand to work from home — have exposed: “It looks like when the tide goes out — and leaves all the junk on the beach.”

If a lockdown comes, she says, some companies are ready, some will adapt. But others could simply close down operations, she believes, with employers forcing staff to take vacations or unpaid leave.

TOKYO, JAPAN - 2020/04/04: People walk through Harajuku area wearing face masks as a preventive measure, during the corona virus pandemic. The Tokyo metropolitan government has again asked residents to stay at home this weekend following a surge of new infections of Coronavirus (COVID-19). (Photo by Viola Kam/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images) © 2020 SOPA Images TOKYO, JAPAN - 2020/04/04: People walk through Harajuku area wearing face masks as a preventive measure, during the corona virus pandemic. The Tokyo metropolitan government has again asked residents to stay at home this weekend following a surge of new infections of Coronavirus (COVID-19). (Photo by Viola Kam/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images) Until then, though, many are simply behaving as it nothing has changed.

“My boss went for drinks with my colleagues twice last week,” the banker said. “He likes drinking a lot, he likes to take out others and talk about work. I don't have any issue with that. But my point is, if you're going to tell me, ‘do this, do that’ and be strict on certain things, then why don't you be strict on yourself?”

simon.denyer@washpost.com

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Stay at home to stop coronavirus spreading - here is what you can and can't do. If you think you have the virus, don't go to the GP or hospital, stay indoors and get advice online. Only call NHS 111 if you cannot cope with your symptoms at home; your condition gets worse; or your symptoms do not get better after seven days. In parts of Wales where 111 isn't available, call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47. In Scotland, anyone with symptoms is advised to self-isolate for seven days. In Northern Ireland, call your GP.

My first attempts at home office .
© provided by Dr. Windows The home office workstation of our colleague Lukas The current situation around Corona requires that we restrict our everyday life. This also means that the vast majority of us no longer drive to work every day, but work from home. So far, I've never worked from home, I'm a newcomer to the home office. In the following lines I would like to describe my first impressions.

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