BCCJ members consider work-place innovation

Nov. 29, 2018

Organisations need to enable, incentivise and impose changes to Japan’s working environment to help promote agile working and better work-life balance for their staff, according to representatives of BCCJ member firms who joined a BCCJ workshop on November 21.

Unlike flexible working—which focuses on hours of work and working remotely—agile working is defined by UK institutions such as NHS England as “a way of working in which an organisation empowers its people to work where, when and how they chose, to optimise their performance.” Ultimately, it offers maximum flexibility and minimal constraints based on the concept that work is an activity we do rather than a place we go.

Led by three experts from the fields of HR, real estate and technology, attendees considered how changes in these areas could drive innovation in work styles in Japan. 



Opening the session, Daniel Ring, head of HR in Japan for NatWest Markets, questioned if staff working in a central location is most efficient for modern businesses or most beneficial for society. He pointed out that, prior to the concept of the office, people were judged on what they produced, not the number of hours they spent producing it.

He called on attendees to avoid “one-size-fits-all” approaches to agile working. Rather, each team should be supported to work in the best way for its members, and managers should be open to continuous improvement to work styles: “Be intuitive. Experiment. Get it wrong and then try something else,” he said.

Members noted that, for Japan to embrace productivity and efficiency over presenteeism, organisations need to address the culture of working long hours and not taking paid leave.  For example, renumeration packages that require staff to top up their low pay by working overtime should be changed so that their compensation for standard hours is attractive. 

Meanwhile, a complete shutdown of operations twice a year or compulsory paid leave (for example five consecutive days of paid leave) would ensure that staff have a rest from work. Alternatively, businesses could offer a bonus or other perk to staff who take their allocated time off.


Real estate

Joris Berkhout, associate manager at Mitsui Fudosan Co., Ltd., shared that the growing appetite for agile working is driving demand for new kinds of office spaces. Firms still want open plan offices that foster communication, but are also recognising the need for more large and small meeting spaces as well as concentration spaces where staff can do focused work without being disturbed. Proximity to the station is also important, particularly for young staff who seek to lessen their commuting time.

In response, Mitsui Fudosan has developed Work Styling, a check-in office in which corporate clients can enrol staff in 10-minute intervals for meetings or solo work. With 33 sites throughout Japan, including in residential areas, Work Styling is designed to provide a place to work near home (rather than work at home) and a place to work following meetings (to avoid lost time traveling back to the office).

Members opined that long meetings hinder agile working because staff involved are unable to complete their tasks within the normal working day. They suggested the removal of walls and chairs from meetings spaces to encourage the uptake of shorter meetings.

Meanwhile, greater access to video conferencing in all parts of the office and an alternative to choosing between working at the office or home, such as use of a shared office, would help staff to work more flexibly.

(Mitsui Fudosan's Work Styling Tokyo Midtown)



Jon Robertson, president and general manager of VMware Japan, noted the massive shift from paper, personal seals and data entry during his early days in Tokyo 30 years ago to working on the move with a device today. Desktops have given way to mobile and, as a result, we have shifted from datacentres using a local network to the cloud.

In recent years, he said firms have encouraged staff to finish their work at the office in the evening rather than risk possible data breach or loss should they bring a company laptop out of the workplace. Now, however, with virtual desktops featuring high security and encryption, staff in many kinds of roles can work safely and securely anywhere.

“The technology is there for workstyle innovation. We don’t have to be at the office to work,” he said, adding that a top-down cultural shift is required to convince employees that working more flexibly is “the right thing to do.”

Members suggested that firms empower staff by offering training on how to work securely outside the office. They could also provide suitable devices and portals to access work while on the go, as well as monitors for use at home.


Driving change

An uptick in agile working is expected to create a more responsive and effective organisation, which ultimately improves business performance. Yet, attendees insisted that it cannot be simply imposed; empowering and incentivising staff to change their work style is as important as top-down initiatives.

Incentives need not be based solely on money. In Japan, recognition, awareness of doing one’s job well and helping the team are also valuable motivators, according to attendees. Young people, meanwhile, may be more concerned about how their work culture impacts social development goals than about renumeration.

Ultimately, members shared that one of the first steps by organisations could be to reward delivery and efficiency. Showing that what one produces matters more than the time taken to produce it might begin a cultural shift towards greater work-life balance in Japan.


Produced by Sterling Content for the BCCJ