CHALLENGES FACING WORKERS IN JAPAN DUE TO COVID-19
With many of us now working from home we thought it might be a good time to examine some of the negative impacts in addition to the upside of working remotely here in Japan.
The outbreak of the deadly virus known as COVID-19, has forced companies in Japan to re-examine some of the country’s longstanding practices in regard to workplace culture. Workers in Japan spend long working hours in the office and this has traditionally been regarded as crucial for success.
With the current COVID-19 outbreak and the subsequent State Of Emergency across many prefectures in Japan, companies have been encouraged by relevant authorities to change from the usual norms and urge their employees to work remotely from home to minimize and stop the spread of the deadly virus.
For many people however, barring a complete lockdown, working from home remains an impossible task. This is because many of these people need to be physically present to perform any sort of work, for example, cooks, hairdressers, doctors, factory workers, taxi drivers etc.
JAPAN HAS NEVER EMBRACED REMOTE WORKING BEFORE THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
Working from home, especially in Japan can be very challenging due to small living spaces which makes it very difficult to juggle between professional and personal duties. Until recently remote working was not taken particularly seriously by many companies due in no small part to the inherent belief that employees need to work in an office.
Amongst those who are now working remotely amidst the virus outbreak, there have been many who are reporting it more difficult to concentrate. A child in need of attention from Mom or Dad, a tempting Netflix account, a pet that loves to curl up next to you or even a ring at your doorbell are just some of the ongoing distractions faced by stay at home workers. These distractions can result in a lack of concentration and an inability to get through the day’s work. Suffice to say these distractions are not often found in a typical office setting.
COMPLICATED WORKING CONDITIONS FOR EMPLOYERS AND EMPLOYEES.
There are various issues encountered by people who work as a team or in groups doing work remotely. Due to the fact people are working in different locations, the ability of team leaders or managers to communicate and coordinate effectively can become complicated. Listed below are some of the difficulties encountered.
- Managing Projects
Managers are mostly at the helm and need to make sure that targets are hit and deadlines met.
Lack of physical representation and communication makes it very difficult to keep track of employees’ assignments, especially for complicated projects and teams that have big challengers.
- Remote Collaboration
Collaborating from different areas is a common challenge that teams working together have reported over the years. For example, a team working on a designing project would have a difficult time coordinating and exchanging ideas. Working on the same projects becomes very limited and could take more time to produce the required results.
There are many project management soft-wares (collaboration tools) that come in handy in such situations where the limitations and co-working barriers are broken down effectively.
- Tracking Tasks and Productivity
There are more complicated issues when tracking progress and productivity while working from home. In order to achieve overall targets, the smaller targets at hand have to be achieved precisely and in a predetermined and timely manner. Following up on progress from remote workers can be an uphill task.
DIFFICULTY WHEN WORKING WITH CLIENTS.
- Relationship Building.
There is a saying that goes, “people buy people”. Face to face meetings are a very important way of building trust which in turn can encourage very strong and reliable long-term business relationships. In Japan these face to face relationships are a cornerstone of business practice and are a great way to build trust.. The inability to meet customers and clients face to face in this current environment makes building trust more difficult, but not impossible.
- Client’s Miss-Understanding
Most parts of human communication involve body language. Body language reveals a lot about a person. These non-verbal gestures include facial expressions, hand gestures, and posture. These small but important tools of persuasion are absent when working remotely and can also be less discernable even when using video communications tools such as Zoom or Skype. The inability to recognize certain non-communicative cues can result in potential misunderstandings with clients especially when there may also be cultural sensitivities at play.
- Decrease in Productivity.
Sending information through email is very quick and convenient but it can sometimes be perceived in the wrong way. This is because emails can lack tone and nuance, something that meeting in person offers. When meeting a client, you secure his or her attention within a given timeframe and reduce any chances of a misunderstanding. These meetings save time and increase the chances of securing a client hence increasing productivity.
- Business opportunity losses
Working remotely decreases the chances of converting potential prospects to long term clients. When meeting a client face to face, a certain relationship develops over time which is vital to any business. In the long run, the client gains trust. The inability to establish these face to face relationships can result in lost business opportunities.
TIPS FOR WORKING REMOTELY MORE EFFICIENTLY
Working remotely may have its challenges, but there are ways of overcoming the disadvantages it poses to the working community.
- Invest in A Communication Tool
Concise and clear communication is the most important factor for work success when working remotely. There has to be a common means where workers and colleagues can ask questions where something is not clear, brainstorm and post important notifications.
Nowadays, there are communication tools in large numbers with various functionalities including internal channels. There are virtual meeting spaces that give workers a common pool where the exchange of ideas and managing projects can be done at ease. Tools such as “Zoom”, “Slack”, and “Google Hangouts” are a great start.
- Developing A Routine
Daily routines are helpful when it comes to work productivity. It is important they are set and followed. This requires a lot of discipline as distractions can be a constant companion. Once an individual or team adapts a routine that works for them, it can become very satisfying working from home.
- Build A Community Outside of Work
For people working remotely, it is essential to have fellow humans who you can have a conversation with in order to keep your sanity in check. In most cases this will be a family member but its also important to check in with friends and colleagues from time to time to share your struggles with. For some people working from home while staring at a computer screen all day can be a lonely experience.
UPSIDE OF REMOTE WORKING
Remote work that is flexible has become more important for employees and employers as well because it can lead to happier employees with a higher retention rate.
Adopting a remote workforce (or at least offering the opportunity to work remotely) gives us a way to access a deeper talent pool to pick from. It also allows a company to be more flexible in regard to managing volumes across servicing networks. Flexible work shifts can also appeal to many employees who prefer working at home.
The option of working at home also opens up the underemployment of a highly educated female workforce here in Japan.
Families too can benefit greatly from parent(s) working from home. Less commuting time can translate into more time with Japan’s future workforce, her children.
Another huge benefit is the reduction in carbon emissions that harm the environment as fewer people need to access cars, buses and trains for their daily commute. The residual effect on this is a decrease in infrastructure costs. Money typically spent on infrastructure can now be spent on other projects that directly improve the quality of life for Japans citizens.
In addition to all these benefits, working remotely can give a morale boost for workers. Depending on a persons strong points, like being an early morning or evening person, you can plan your time accordingly, avoiding unnecessary frustrations that are related to working in an office and potentially increasing job satisfaction, efficiency and job retention.