Talking about COVID-19 and the ongoing pandemic is starting to feel overstated, repetitive, and out-of-date, and although there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel, the fact remains the same, we’re not clear of the woods yet. The ongoing pandemic is affecting the future state of our society and the way we work in various ways – some negative and some positive. And although it is easy to see the negative aspects, it is time to focus on the positives.
The pandemic has endemically changed the way people view life, its meaning, and what is essential and forced businesses to re-evaluate their core beliefs and vital to success. The Great Resignation of 2021, continuing into 2022, is creating a greater need to upgrade and update working styles and conditions that support employee wellbeing. As the world moves forward, the Future State of Work needs to evolve to keep both the company and, even more so, the employee successful.
In an article published by Forbes, “Harvard and Stanford Professors Predict The Future Of Work,” senior contributor Jack Kelley writes, “working from home is here to stay.” However, it is believed the hybrid model will become the standard way of working. He also predicts people will migrate out of the big cities, and digital nomads will increase with the development of new technologies.
The concept of “remote work” is also growing beyond the tech field and into more conventional jobs, such as financial institutions and jobs that don’t require the employee to be present at an office to complete their tasks physically. Productivity will be valued above logged working hours and virtual meetings and gatherings will be the norm.
Office real estate is also undergoing a renovation revolution, trading small cubicles for large, open areas so employees can engage and communicate with each other. Assigned work stations are being replaced with free-address work stations where anyone can plugin and get to work. Jack Kelley also mentions “office buildings can also be turned into mixed usage with both business and families renting apartments.”
Prithwiraj Choudhury, the Lumry Family associate professor at Harvard Business School, sees the “work from anywhere” trend as a WIN-WIN for both companies and employees. Companies can hire from anywhere globally and avoid the high cost and risks of relocating talent locally, and employees can live in areas that suit their desired lifestyle.
But what about Japanese companies? Will they adapt to the new work styles and reap the benefits for both the organization and the employee? With Japan’s “be onsite” work policies, strict adherence to the time clocks, and long working hours, it’s hard to imagine Japan embracing the Future State of Work at the same level as western organizations. And even though Japan is famous for its grueling work culture, it still stagnates at the bottom of the G7 in terms of labor productivity.
Considering the above statement, Japan desperately needs to review its work styles and policies and consider new approaches to thwart this issue. The pandemic is the perfect opportunity to test ideas and new strategies. If they work, it could make a massive difference in Japan and Japan as a competitive nation. If it doesn’t work, no harm, no foul, and it drags along in its present state.
But this may not be the case. We can see from a recent article in the Nikkei ASIA edition by Nikkei staff writer, Motokazu Matsui, “Panosonic Joins Japan’s Budding Shift Toward 4-Day Workweek“, some companies are already experimenting with different work styles. The Japanese government is even considering the four-day work schedule. At a news conference in April 2021, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato stated, “It is important to promote diversified work styles to balance work and private life….”
This is all good news, and there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel. There is a growing demand for improved work-life balance by upcoming generations. And with Japan’s decreasing population, the need to attract and retain talent is an evergrowing challenge. Shinogi, a pharmaceutical company, uses the four-day workweek to give employees time to learn new skills and develop professionally and personally.
Japanese companies need to look to foreign businesses to develop their Future State of Work systems and policies. In the UK, 60% of companies that opted for the four-day workweek reported improved productivity. In New Zealand, Unilever also is testing the four-day work week, and if it is successful, they will expand the option globally. Microsoft Japan even tried the idea in 2019 with a 90% favorable response.
The four-day workweek is not the only option being implemented across organizations and it’s not suitable for all industries and working conditions. Even if it can be applied to the business, as with other options, it isn’t a simple process and will only work in well-organized organizations with a culture of responsibility and trust.
As Prithwiraj Choudhury also stated in his article, “There are two kinds of companies: one is going to embrace work from anywhere, and the second is in denial. I feel those companies will lose their workforce. You have to make a choice, as a leader, what kind of company you want to lead.” Choudhury added, “My prediction is, in five to 10 years, we won’t call it remote work—it’ll just be referred to as – work.”