The precious freedom of working from home

If you’re working from home, is your employer paying for your computer, internet server and electricity?

I know from experience that the costs of these vital tools can mount up. In general, Japanese organisations are more generous in paying for them than firms in other parts of the world.

For example a software developer called Six Apart, based in central Tokyo, offers staff an allowance of 15,000 yen ($140 USD) a month for teleworking. According to Nikkei, the funds come partly from the money the company is saving on office rent and travel expenses during the current coronavirus lockdown.

Expenses paid

It is common for Japanese firms to compensate their staff for a long commute into work by meeting the cost of their annual rail cards. This is a significant perk, although I still feel sorry for people crammed on the rush hour trains in Tokyo.

Another firm mentioned by Nikkei called Mercari gives its employees an allowance of 60,000 yen ($565 USD) over six months to cover the cost of utilities and online communications.

I hadn’t heard of Mercari before I read the article, but it turns out to be an online marketplace, similar to ebay. It’s currently selling some rather cute face masks.

New challenge

As the state of emergency continues in Japan, around 28% of full-time employees are working from home. Many of them will be unfamiliar with the experience.

Typically, most working environments in Japan are crowded. Junior staff live in constant fear of a manager who sits just a few feet away.

My favourite writer on Japan – Leo Lewis of the Financial Times – describes these managers in fearful terms. “The classic overbearing tyrant head is a mid-fifties nano tyrant who populates companies across the country, delegates everything, appears to do nothing of value and whose survival is explicable only via automatic hierarchical respect.”

Striving for efficiency

So, when workers are freed from the chains of this mythical tyrant, do they relish their freedom and become more efficient?

Not according to research done by Tokyo Woman’s Christian University.

An online survey of 3,192 remote workers, which was taken nationwide in mid-April, found that although 40% of respondents working remotely said they had more free time, 34% said their productivity has declined.

Many workers said they find it difficult to concentrate at home and I understand this dilemma. I have been working from home for about five years since I left the BBC. There is no editor to scold me if I turn up late for a meeting, waste time online or even go back to bed for an afternoon siesta.

Fortunately, I’m getting better at supervising myself and I aim to follow a detailed work timetable. I also ask my wife and family to check my work diary, so that I’m accountable to someone else.

Tempting nap

I am satisfied if I achieve certain goals, such as writing my weekly blog. But I don’t worry much about how much time I’ve spent in my home office, provided I know the work’s progressed in line with the schedule.

However, many organisations in Japan appear to place more emphasis on the number of hours spent in the office rather than on results and this is often cited as one of the reasons for Japan’s rather low productivity.

The good news, from my experience, is that if we’re asked to work from home, most of us can adapt. And from time to time, a little nap after lunch is excusable, I believe – provided there’s been some tangible progress on the main work goals.

One Reply to “The precious freedom of working from home”

  1. Japanese companies tend to reimburse the costs of season tickets for employees because such reimbursement (up to Y100,000 a month) is not subject to income tax, so it makes no sense for employees to pay their commuting costs out of post-tax salary. There is no such tax incentive in the UK, though there are some allowances for interest-free loans to employees, so some companies provide these to fund the purchase of season tickets.

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