Remote work has never been fashionable in Japan. But that might change. New data from the Japanese government finds value in continuing the trend that started during the pandemic. And other data shows that women may benefit the most.
A forced change of circumstances
Japanese businesses sometimes get knocked for clinging to old traditions and technologies. Case in point: the alarm bells that rang over businesses who hadn’t re-coded their Web sites to work on browsers besides Internet Explorer. And the country was slow to adopt cashless technologies (though that’s now changing rapidly).
But Japan and the rest of the business world were pretty much in agreement about remote work before the pandemic. By which I mean, they all universally hated it.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, only around 23% of Americans said they engaged in remote work frequently. Rates were even lower in Japan, with only around 10% of people saying they worked remotely.
But then, of course, everything changed. Work-at-home rates during the pandemic in Japan shot up to 27%. Those numbers have dipped somewhat as daily life gradually returns to pre-pandemic conditions. However, it appears some degree of working at home is here to stay in Japan. A recent WeWork Japan survey found an increase in the number of people who say their jobs support hybrid work – from 48.6% in 2021 to 55.6% in 2022.
Will working from home stop working to death?
In other words, remote work appears to be here to stay in Japan. But the million-dollar question is: is that good for workers?
A new government report indicates that, yes, indeed it is.
The report is the “Strategies for Prevention of Death by Overwork White Paper”. The paper surveyed 10,000 workers across the country on how much sleep they averaged a night. It found a marked difference in sleep length between people who worked from home frequently and those who didn’t. For people who couldn’t work from home, only 54% reported getting six hours or more of sleep a night. However, 66% of people working from home every day reported getting sufficient z’s.
Working from home affected more than just sleep, too. Those who worked from home daily also reported greater levels of happiness and life satisfaction than those who couldn’t.
Working mothers are benefiting as well
Working from home also seems to be benefiting women in Japan in particular.
A joint report from Keio University and the NIRA Research Institute in Tokyo looked at how working from home impacted working mothers. It found that, as of May 2022, mothers who could work remotely managed to work an average of 32.9 hours a week. That’s an increase of 8.8 hours a week compared to data from March 2022. On average, women who can work from home get in an additional four hours of work weekly compared to those who don’t.
Working mothers in Japan have long struggled to obtain work/life balance. Data shows that mothers spend 25 hours a week on average in housework and childcare, compared to a measly five hours a week for fathers. That’s the largest imbalance of any OECD country.
As a result, women work only 136 hours a month compared to an average of 181 hours for their male counterparts. The discrepancy negatively affects women’s career advancement.
However, remote work appears to be changing that. The weekly delta in work hours between women and men dropped by 25% for women who work remotely. Researchers also saw a drop in the delta for women who didn’t work remotely but it wasn’t as significant. Women who work in the office still have a 5.8 hour/week delta with their male counterparts compared to a 3.6 hour/week delta for remote workers.
Sadly, not all women have the same opportunity to work remotely as their male colleagues. NIRA found that only 10% of women in Japan get the opportunity to work from home. That’s almost half the rate of Japanese men.
Things are still “returning to normal”. So it’s hard to say how many of these changes will stick over time. But for now, at least, it appears that the remote work revolution in Japan is alive and well. The next challenge will be ensuring that it’s as available to women as it is to men.
What to read next
 COVID-19 Pandemic Continues To Reshape Work in America. Pew Research
 コロナ禍の前後でこんなに変わった！ 日本のテレワーク事情～特集 テレワークとワークエンゲージメントVol.1～. Manegy
 ハイブリットワーク普及率、2021年から上昇し5割強に--WeWork調べ. CNET Japan
 テレワークで睡眠長く＝適度な出社で幸福感も―過労死白書. Jiji
 子育て女性、テレワークで就業＋週8時間 働く機会拡大. Nikkei