The New Way of Working after Covid-19
Feb. 21, 2022
The unforeseen spread of Covid-19 has dramatically changed the Japanese people’s way of working. Teleworking—which, during the 30 or more years since its introduction in the 1980s, had been slow to become a common mode of work—suddenly came into wide use in less than one year, particularly in metropolitan areas and at large corporations.
As a result, individuals found that not only was the risk of infection lowered, but the physical toll from commuting was lessened, and they were able to effectively utilize their commute time. Further, by being able to concentrate on their own work, many people have managed to increase productivity and improve their work-life balance, and to experience other benefits.
Concerns about telework
On the other hand, because of the sudden change, businesses and individuals have various issues and concerns that they had never experienced before. Specifically, communication in the form of quick questions and small talk at the workplace has decreased drastically, and as a result, in some cases mistakes are not always discovered until much later and business productivity has fallen.
Further, many academic researchers have reported that new inspirations and ideas arise from small talk and other informal communication, and it seems that for telework, which is suitable for work where the division and the nature of roles are specified for each individual person, there are still many hindrances that make it difficult for groups of individuals to collaborate and create something new.
Moreover, for members of an organization, particularly new members, it is difficult to build relationships with superiors, subordinates, and colleagues. Similarly, even for people who have been at the same organization for many years, with the normalization of telework, the impact from having fewer face-to-face meetings is significant.
Although it was conducted before the spread of Covid-19, an internal investigation by NRI found that at organizations where superiors often called on employees, the degree of satisfaction of employees regarding the organization and their workplace was higher. What is interesting is that even at organizations that use the same facility, people’s degree of satisfaction with the facility tended to be higher at organizations where superiors often called on employees.
Further, it is known that compared to face-to-face conversations, it is easy to miss expressions, glances, and other information during an online conversation. People are often told to “read the room”, but it is difficult to read the “room” online.
There is also the concern that if we continue to have these telework environments where communication is done only out of necessity for work, online meetings get right to their subjects without any icebreakers, and meetings are switched off immediately after they are finished, then even at an organization that appears, at first glance, to be free of issues, engagements among people will steadily decline, and eventually huge problems will arise.
What to seek in the evolution of telework
One might wonder, then, if our workstyles will go back to being based primarily on face-to-face communication in order to eliminate such concerns, but that is not the case. According to the “Investigation Concerning the Everyday Life of the Japanese People” conducted by NRI in July 2021, when asked how their overall lives will be after Covid-19 is under control, 75% of the respondents answered, “I will continue to live the same way as I have during Covid-19” or “I will return to the way I lived before Covid-19 to some extent, but not completely”. As for the reasons for such answers, “I don’t think Covid-19 will be completely controlled” was highest at 41%, followed by “I’ve gotten used to this way of life” at 18%. This is probably the case for workstyles as well.
Recently, there have been several articles in business magazines on cases where the “easing of workplace restrictions” allowing telework to be done without restrictions anywhere in the country (and even worldwide) is being deployed.
Such easing measures should, as discussed before, have many advantages for employees in terms of work-life balance. Not only in terms of childcare, but for example, for employees with parents who need nursing care, it would be possible for them to move closer to their parents’ home without changing jobs and provide nursing care and still carry out their work. For businesses as well, not only would they be able to avoid letting go of employees who are dealing with various circumstances, they can also look forward to securing talented personnel who reside remotely or overseas.
However, it is essential for businesses that proceed with such arrangements (i) to make efforts to correct any sense of unfairness between employees who have no choice but to work at the workplace and those who do not, (ii) in nurturing new employees and others to help them assimilate into the organization, to make arrangements for employees who need close communication, and (iii) to take measures to avoid any lack of creativity or lessening of engagements among people because of the lack of quality or quantity of communication.
Likewise, employees will also have to change. It is said that the Japanese, compared to Europeans and Americans, do not show much expression, or use gestures during conversations. Until the technology advances and the “room” can be read even online, employees must learn to be more expressive in conversations.
Covid-19 has changed the Japanese people’s attitude toward work and companies. However, it is hoped that they will not only think about themselves, but also think about unity with the organizations to which they belong and the growth and fulfillment of those working there and evolve in a direction that will involve compassion and consideration for their co-workers.