Working from home remains underutilized in Japan even during the coronavirus pandemic due to Japanese corporate culture as well as the country’s undersized apartments. According to surveys by the Japanese Productivity Center published on Nippon.com, only 19 percent of employees worked from home in April. The number pretty much stagnated after the first wave of COVID-19 despite repeated outbreaks in the country and the upcoming Olympic Summer Games in Tokyo.
Japan does not mandate WFH and only recommends it since its conservative government is scared of intervening into the economy – a headache even before the pandemic – too much. Japanese companies are likewise scared to let their employees out of their sight because they value traditional corporate culture as well as collaborative work environments. Finally, the price of living in Japan’s many large cities coupled with the long hours many people used to spend at the office created small personal living quarters, often without a place to work comfortably.
In late April, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga called on the nation to cut commuting to work by 70 percent until the Olympic Games. Assuming that around 50 percent of people can work from home, the current increase to around 20 percent working from home, up from around 10 percent pre-pandemic, only constituted a cut of 25 percent fewer people heading out to their jobs. To cut those able to work from home by a total of 70 percent, WFH in Japan would have to start approaching 40 percent of all employees.