Nowadays, working remotely is getting more attention, but did you know that there is a woman in Japan who has been challenging this “a new way of working”?
After marriage, she has moved around in Japan due to her husband’s job transfer and kept working at home while raising her child. Her working style aroused many women’s sympathy in Japan, who could not help but quitting their job against their will. In order to meet that demand, she established Y’s Staff, Inc., which is a forerunner of crowdsourcing today.
10 years later, she established another company, Telework Management Inc., which helps introduce telework within companies. Now her focus in on ‘hometown teleworking (Furusato telework, in Japanese)’ as well as promoting female employment, involving both companies and the government, to attract urban companies to move some of their business in local provinces as a regional revitalization. Based on her experience, she introduced her idea and approach for teleworking.
(Ms. Tazawa defines “telework” as a flexible working way free from time and place, different from “remote working,” which is working outside of the office.)
Doing business could not change the situation
Q. What is the background of your business and current activity?
I started to work for a Japanese electronics manufacture, Sharp. I was assigned to product planning and I really liked my job working in a team. However, I quitted the job when I got married to my husband six years after joining the company, and began to work as a freelance writer at home. At that time in Japan, it was the time when a lot of highly-motivated women started working, but they had to leave their work after marriage due to the lack of culture and systems for them to keep working.
It was when I realized that there are a large number of women who long for working flexibly that I started Y’s Staff, Inc. so that the situation for such women may change.
I recruited many distinguished workers and worked remotely in a team. I believed I could change the world if I can prove my business model spreads. Unfortunately, a trustee company could not make an impact huge enough to change how people work in Japan. Then, I realized that it is better to influence a company directly to achieve an ideal working way. I thought it is more efficient to support many companies with a lot of employees to introduce telework because it has a large impact to many people working there.
Since it is also better to have the government involved and propose my opinion to change companies. Thus, I promote telework with both the government and the companies.
Change the world by changing employees’ working ways
Q. Crowdsourcing is becoming more popular recently. What is the difference between crowdsourcing and teleworking?
Telework is defined as a flexible working way free from time and place brought by ICT (Information and Communications Technology) in Japan. It can be sort in two ways. As type of employment, telework is categorized either “self-employment” or “employment”. As for location of work place, it is categorized either “mobile (remote)’ or "at home.” Since crowdsourcing is “self-employment,” they are originally teleworkers. It was hard for them to contract for a job if they live rural areas. Crowdsourcing connects those self-employed workers and companies. In other words, it is a matching system between companies and individuals.
On the other hand, telework is how you work. In Japan, more than 80% of the workers are employed, but their working ways are restricted depending on where and when they work. It is a possible situation for anyone to have difficulty continuing their current working way because of raising a child, caring for parents, and getting sick. Therefore, it is impossible for employed workers to work in the same company unless it offers a flexible labor environment in case of various needs. Telework can realize a society where people can work flexibly.
Changing how you work to suite in your culture
Q. Why telework is necessary for companies as well?
Telework is a measure for securing human resources. We will have shortfall in human resources next 30 years in Japan. It is essential for companies to change their current labor environment into a flexible one so that not only employees work for the company in a long term but also their productivity improves.
Disappointingly, most people misunderstood that telework limits work. They expect that telework is none of their business because their type of industry or occupation is different from what they think is ideal for telework. Unless both their mind and working environment are changed, their productivity won’t increase even if they introduce telework.
We have our own working procedure, rewarding, and system in Japan, which is totally different from the U. S. whose telework is said to be more advanced. So, it is significant to bring telework in practice with Japanese characteristics remained. I propose “Japanese way of teleworking,” which has three points. In my company, we telework thinking out the tools or the systems.
Net office enables regular communication
Q. What is your points for “Japanese way of teleworking”?
First, it is necessary to have the same working styles with telework, which workers communicate face to face and proceed with work in a team. We value a sense of belonging and working as a team. Because of this many companies and employees feel lonley and unease for not seeing each other when Japanese companies put telework into practice.
In my company, we have used “net office,” which we can communicate anytime online from the beginning. In that virtual office, we can see who is doing what anytime anywhere, and we can talk to someone by using microphones. There are a desks for each one, a resting room, a drawing room, the president’s office and a meeting room in a net office, and we can move to those “virtual working place” by clicking where we move.
Also, we can check who is doing what such as one person is on a meeting with clients if they are in the drawing room, or another one is taking a break if in the resting room. We can communicate by using cameras and microphones whenever needed, which enables personal meetings and communication at the timing of moving somewhere.
System which prevent from overlooking both “addressed message” and “casual talk”
Second point is to store every single communication online which is public for all employees including the conversation in the job process. It is often said that a creative idea comes from casual communication or what they hear when passing each other in the company. So, it is important to keep such communication and make it available got everyone.
In my company, it is a rule to specify to whom and the conclusion in the subject of an email as well as sharing it. And, if you are addressed, it is shown in red, so it is distinguished whether it is to you or to somebody else. As a result, it is possible to see the process of a discussion even if you are not in, or rather you can cut in the discussion and give your thought.
We are actually doing an experiment about this “some conversation going on outside of your attention.” We have free address desk in our net office and see how it goes. I am thinking that even online, there may be some communication different from new, which brings new ideas even if we telework. It is a new trial, but I am really excited to see the result.
Strict time management contributes to employee’s ease and increasing productivity
Third point is to manage the worker’s working time strictly even if they work remotely. There are many pros and cons about this idea, but I believe there is no choice as long as labor hour is designated by law. It is both time and outcome that we have to manage, and altering the rewarding system for that outcome can change how workers think about what they are rewarded for.
There are basically two rewarding systems for labor; determining by outcome such as the U.S. and by time such as Japan, but when it comes to teleworking, salary should be determined by productivity per hour. If people are evaluated only by their outcome, it brings surplus labor. On the other hand, if labor hours are considered, people who can work longer hours are advantaged like the current system in Japan, which does not contribute to improving productivity.
In my company, we manage the employee’s time strictly and check seating and leaving time as well as when they start and end work. Our net office tool enables managers to see their face through screen to see if they are actually working or not. This can bring ease for managers and, what’s more, it prevents workers from overworking for not being seen by managers.
“Reward for productivity per hour” with “working way allowance” is a fair system for anyone
Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare in Japan suggests that teleworkers should be paid the same as the commuting workers, but my idea is different. If their salary level is the same, it is unfair for commuting workers who spend time coming to the office. To solve the problem, my company pays the workers for “reward for productivity for hour” with “working way allowance.”
For example, if a worker is paid 300 dollars per month. Many of Japanese companies decide this amount by “outcome, working hours, and their working appearance,” but my company decides their wage by multiplying “productivity per hour” by their working hours, which is calculated from strict time management.
Let’s say that the worker’s “productivity per hour” is 1.5 dollars, and they work for 8 hours per day, for every week day, for four weeks. Their basic pay can be calculated [1.5 dollars /hour] x [8 hours /day] x [5 days /week] x [4 weeks] = 240 dollars. With this base, “working way allowance” is add such as “allowance for working all weekdays,” “allowance for working during a set time,” “allowance for commuting” and such, and then it becomes their monthly pay.
If it becomes hard for this worker to commute and work during a set time due to the need to care parents, there is no “allowance for working during a set time” nor “allowance for commuting” any more. However, their “productivity per hour” will improve if they perform better with the limited working time. With the higher outcome, this system increases the basic pay even though they are teleworking. Their increased productivity per hour will be carried after they come back the regular working style, which raises the total salary.
People can work more productively with the limited time. There is an increasing number of people who have the limitation of their time and place for working, so it is important to pursue “productivity per hour” by strict time management. Telework enables people to work freely from time and place, but it does not free people from work. It is significant to create the fair system for both workers with no limit and workers with limit of time and place for working so that they will be evaluated equally and properly.
Aim to create a society where people can work freely from time and place
Q. What do you think about ideal working way?
I aim to create a society where people can work flexibly and freely from time and place, not focusing on only working at home. As a result, it is the best for everyone to choose to work locally. Personally, I experienced to move around the rural areas, so I like local places. Some people feel they want to work locally but they cannot now, which reminds me of my feeling “I wanted to work but I could not.” Thus, if how people work changes into a society where people can work flexibly, it is healthier.Moreover, if work is freed, it can change the society as a whole and solve various problems.