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The Future of Work: Japan and the U.S.

Some companies in the US are giving telecommuting a second look, while here in Japan telecommuting and remote work are gradually becoming more popular.

Some US companies are reducing the amount of telecommuting their employees are allowed to do, while others are getting rid of it completely.

Yahoo! USA abolished it completely as have IBM and Bank of America. This was a surprising shift as IBM, in particular, has been trying to promote telecommuting for a number of years.

Background of the Reduction in Telecommuting
We were surprised by this turn of events. As Japan starts experimenting with this new way of working, we decided to examine this phenomenon in the US to find out how and why it started and what it might mean.

One reason we discovered is wasted opportunity. Companies cited the fact that the innovation that occurs with collaboration between employees working together in the same physical space is lost in a remote work/telecommuting culture.

Many of the organizations initiating this change are doing so at the request of their new employees. They, along with their company leaders, believe that motivation and innovation increase as does efficiency.

Companies also thought initially that they would enjoy substantial savings as a result of having employees telecommute. While costs have been somewhat reduced, the saving have not been enough to offset other challenges that emerged.

Issues Common Between the US and Japan

While those issues seem to be unique to the situation in the U.S., there are also some questions they share with Japan.

How is the work of remote workers best managed? Telecommuting from home is said to improve productivity; however, unlike the traditional office environment, the progress of each employee is difficult to monitor. There is concern then that if productivity falters as a result of an inability to track employee progress, the speed of business will slow. This could also result in missed opportunities.

There also remains the question of which jobs and tasks are best suited for telecommuting. Organizations on both sides of the Pacific, large and small alike, continue to grapple with this issue and the best way to resolve it.

Despite these issues, telecommuting continues to spread in the U.S. and in Japan. In the U.S., about 20-percent of the workforce enjoys the benefits of telecommuting at least during some part of the work week.

Tools to increase the effectiveness and productivity of those working remotely – video conferencing and business chat applications – are also evolving to support this trend. These tools will be key to effectively improving and changing telecommuting as we know it and supporting the companies that rely on it.

Please feel free to contact us for more information!