The prevalence of remote work, he concluded, remains low in Japan because of corporate culture. Many Japanese companies, he says, have a long tradition of staff working together in the same room within the office and have a hierarchy with tight communication and lots of internal consultation.
“This system works well in team-based tasks, informal information-intensive work, less discretion, less autonomy and more exchange of tacit knowledge . . . however, our findings suggest that all of those are unsuited to remote work,” says Okubo.
The risk to employee health, at this point, is that Japan returns to post-pandemic normality without any significant corporate reset in attitudes towards wellness.
“The past couple of years have highlighted the need to rework the Japanese office workplace and to more rapidly accelerate an understanding of the critical importance of wellness,” says Peter Eadon-Clarke, an adviser to the Asian wellness consultancy Conceptasia.
“Initiatives to reduce long working hours and stress, by both the government and private sector, have been slow and steady, but the need for urgency is now obvious.”
A survey by market research company Intage strongly suggested that workers themselves are even more pessimistic. In a report released in April, it found that just 18 per cent of workers surveyed said their working style had changed during the pandemic, and just 13 per cent predicted that those changes would be permanent.
Japanese workers, better than anyone, know precisely how hard-drawn are the invisible lines in the workplace. They also know it will take more than an unprecedented global pandemic to shift them.