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How Digitalization and the Spread of Remote Work Are Changing Employment in Japan


Remote work in Japan

1. Introduction of Remote Work in Japan


Japan's work environment has a unique history, especially with systems like "lifetime employment" and "seniority-based promotion" being the norm for many years. These systems encouraged employees to stay with one company for their entire careers, and companies, in turn, valued loyalty. However, this often led to issues such as long working hours and cases of karoshi (death by overwork).


In recent years, work style reforms have been underway, leading to more diverse employment options. The spread of digital technology and remote work has significantly transformed Japan's traditional work environment. Particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a rapid adoption of digital tools and remote work practices. These digital tools have greatly improved communication and work efficiency, allowing employees to work from home, cafes, or other non-office locations. This shift is expected to reduce commuting time and improve work-life balance.

However, remote work has also brought new challenges, such as communication issues and the management of working hours. Despite these challenges, the changes are especially welcomed by younger generations and international talent. The flexibility in work styles makes Japan an attractive place for foreign workers considering employment opportunities here.


In this article, we will explore how the adoption of digital technologies has changed the working styles in Japanese companies.



2. The Rise of Remote Work


2.1 The Spread of Remote Work in Japan


Before the COVID-19 pandemic, remote work was not common in Japan's work environment. Most companies prioritized face-to-face communication and on-site attendance, so the adoption of remote work was minimal. However, the situation changed dramatically with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.


Since the pandemic, many companies have adopted remote work to maintain business continuity. During this period, the convenience and effectiveness of remote work became widely recognized, leading to its rapid adoption. Nowadays, remote work is becoming a sustainable work style rather than a temporary measure. It is particularly prevalent in IT companies and startups, where flexible working arrangements are highly valued.


The graph below (Figure 1) shows the trend of remote work adoption rates among private companies in Japan.


Figure 1: Trends in Remote Work (Telework) Adoption Rates Among Private Companies in Japan*1

Figure 1: Trends in Remote Work (Telework) Adoption Rates Among Private Companies in Japan

Between 2016 and 2019, the adoption rate of remote work among Japanese companies increased gradually, reaching 20.2% by 2019. However, this rate surged dramatically due to the COVID-19 pandemic. From 2020 to 2022, the adoption rate stabilized at around 50%, and it continued to rise in 2023. As of November 2023, over 66% of Japanese companies have implemented remote work*1.


The following graph (Figure 2) illustrates the trend of remote work among workers in Japan and the United States.


Figure 2: Trends in the Proportion of Workers Regularly Engaging in Remote Work in Japan and the United States*2

Figure 2: Trends in the Proportion of Workers Regularly Engaging in Remote Work in Japan and the United States

Since the pandemic in 2020, the percentage of employees working remotely in Japan has increased significantly. It jumped from 13.3% in 2016 to 27% in 2021, and has remained high at 30.7% in 2023.

Comparing this with the United States, the proportion of remote workers there slightly decreased from 2022 to 2023, whereas it continued to rise in Japan. Assuming this trend continues and applying the 2023-to-2022 growth rate (30.7% / 27% ≈ 1.137) to 2024, Japan's remote work rate could further increase (30.7% × 1.137 ≈ 34.9%), potentially matching the 35% rate in the United States in 2023.


According to a survey by Nikkei, the remote work rate in Japan is expected to increase further in 2024*3. As more Japanese companies continue to adopt remote work, the acceptance and infrastructure for remote work are likely to expand.


Benefits

  • Reduced Commute Time: Employees can save commuting time and use that time more effectively.

  • Improved Work-Life Balance: Remote work allows employees to prioritize their family and personal time better.

  • Increased Efficiency: Employees may find they can concentrate better and be more productive while working remotely.


2.2 Impact of Remote Work on Office Culture


Changes in Communication

The introduction of remote work has also changed communication methods. Face-to-face meetings and discussions have decreased, while online communication has increased. This shift has altered the speed and manner of communication, making the use of digital tools essential.


Team Building Methods

In a remote work environment, team building has also evolved. Due to physical distance, traditional methods are less effective, and there is a need for online activities and events to foster a sense of unity within teams.



3. Delays in Digitalization Exposed by the Pandemic and Subsequent Improvements


3.1 The Delay in Digitalization in Japanese Companies


Causes of Delayed Digitalization

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Japanese companies were often noted for lagging behind other countries in digitalization. The main reasons for this delay include:

  • Conservative Corporate Culture: A strong reluctance to adopt new technologies and tools, favoring stability and resisting change.

  • Persistent Paper Culture: Many business operations were still conducted on paper, slowing the transition to digital processes.

  • Unprepared Infrastructure: IT infrastructure and security measures needed to support remote work were inadequate.

  • Security Concerns: Japanese companies were particularly cautious about cybersecurity risks, which made them hesitant to adopt digital tools due to fears of cyberattacks.


Impact of the Pandemic on Digitalization

The pandemic forced companies to rapidly advance their digitalization efforts. To implement remote work, it became essential to upgrade IT infrastructure and adopt digital tools, leading to several notable changes:

  • Rapid Adoption of Digital Tools: Video conferencing and collaboration tools became widely used, accelerating the digitalization of business operations.

  • Improved IT Infrastructure: Companies strengthened cloud services and security measures to support remote work.


3.2 Promoting Digitalization


Initiatives by the Government and Companies

To catch up on digitalization, the Japanese government and businesses have undertaken various initiatives, including:

  • Establishment of the Digital Agency: The Japanese government created the Digital Agency to develop and implement policies promoting digitalization.

  • Promotion of Digital Transformation (DX): Many companies are pushing for DX, reviewing business processes, and creating new business models.


Success Stories

Several companies have successfully implemented digitalization, improving efficiency and productivity. Here are a few examples:

  • Digitalization in Manufacturing: More companies are integrating IoT technologies into their manufacturing processes for real-time production and quality management. This allows for quicker monitoring of machine operations and detection of abnormalities, enhancing production efficiency. For example, Toyota Motor Corporation has utilized Microsoft Power Platform to develop over 40 custom applications to optimize production lines, resulting in a productivity improvement rate of about 20% and more efficient quality management*4.

  • Digitalization in Service Industries: Many companies are using online reservation systems and digital marketing to improve customer experiences and streamline operations. Analyzing customer data enables personalized service offerings. For instance, FamilyMart has implemented an unmanned checkout system to make store operations more efficient, reducing wait times and labor costs, which has also enhanced customer satisfaction*5.

  • Digitalization in Logistics: Optimizing delivery routes and automating inventory management have significantly improved logistics efficiency. The introduction of GPS and tracking systems allows for real-time monitoring of delivery statuses, improving customer service. For example, Nippon Express has adopted NEC's "Customs Clearance Calculation System," which digitizes customs procedures using AI-OCR technology to automatically dataize invoices and other documents, thereby improving the efficiency of customs calculations and declaration preparation. Post-implementation, work time has reportedly been reduced by approximately 30%, enhancing operational quality and reducing dependency on specific personnel*6.



4. Key Points to Understand the Evolution of Japanese Workplaces


4.1 How Japanese Workplaces are Evolving


Work Style Reforms

In recent years, the Japanese government has been promoting "work style reforms" to improve working conditions and increase productivity. These reforms aim to provide a more flexible working environment for employees and enhance work-life balance. Specific initiatives include:

  • Regulation of Overtime Hours: Setting limits on overtime hours to prevent overwork and related health issues.

  • Promotion of Paid Leave: Creating an environment where employees can easily take their paid leave.

  • Encouragement of Telework: Implementing measures to support the widespread adoption of remote work, allowing for more flexible work styles.


For detailed information on improvements in working hours, refer to "Breaking the Myth: Is Japan Still Overworking?"


Introduction of Flexible Work

As part of the work style reforms, many companies are adopting flexible work arrangements, allowing employees to choose their working hours and locations according to their lifestyles. Specific types include:

  • Flextime System: A system where employees can choose their own start and end times.

  • Telework: A system that allows employees to work from home or coworking spaces instead of the office.

  • Shorter Working Hours: Systems that enable employees to work fewer hours to accommodate personal circumstances such as childcare or caregiving.


4.2 Skills and Adaptation Methods Needed for Global Talent


Digital Skills

In the modern work environment, the importance of digital skills is increasing. The following skills are particularly in demand:

  • Basic IT Skills: Proficiency in basic tools like Microsoft Office and Google Workspace.

  • Programming Skills: Essential for those working in the IT industry. Learning major programming languages such as Java, Python, and C++ is recommended.

  • Digital Marketing Skills: Skills like SEO, social media marketing, and data analysis are highly valued, especially in the marketing field.


Remote Work Skills

To work effectively in a remote environment, the following skills are crucial:

  • Self-Management: Self-discipline is key in remote work. Developing time management and task management skills is essential.

  • Communication Skills: Online communication skills are necessary as face-to-face interactions are limited. Being able to effectively convey information through email, chat, and video conferencing tools is important.

  • Technology Literacy: Basic technology literacy is also important to utilize digital tools effectively.



5. The Introduction and Utilization of Generative AI


5.1 Overview and Adoption of Generative AI


What is Generative AI?

Generative AI is a branch of artificial intelligence capable of creating new data, including text, images, music, and more. Using deep learning techniques, generative AI models can automatically produce new content based on specific patterns and rules. Interestingly, Japan shows less resistance to adopting generative AI compared to other countries, and examples of its integration into business practices are steadily increasing.


Examples of Generative AI Adoption in Japanese Companies

Generative AI is being adopted across various industries in Japan, with notable examples including:

  • Marketing: Generative AI is used to automatically create advertising copy, catchy phrases, and social media posts.

  • Entertainment: AI composers create music automatically, and AI writers generate stories.

  • Manufacturing: Generative AI helps design new product prototypes.


5.2 How Generative AI is Transforming Workplaces


Enhancing Work Efficiency

Generative AI contributes to improving efficiency in various tasks. Specific applications include:

  • Streamlining Design Work: AI can automatically generate new design ideas, reducing the workload for designers.

  • Automating Data Analysis: AI can extract patterns and trends from large datasets, providing valuable business insights.


Creating New Roles and Responsibilities

The introduction of generative AI is giving rise to new job roles and expanding the scope of existing ones, requiring more advanced skills.

  • AI Specialists: Professionals who develop and manage generative AI models.

  • Data Scientists: Experts who use generative AI to analyze data and solve business problems.

  • Content Creators: Individuals who oversee and edit AI-generated content.


5.3 Skills Needed for Global Talent to Utilize Generative AI


Basic Knowledge of Generative AI

To effectively use generative AI, it’s essential to acquire basic knowledge, including:

  • Fundamentals of Machine Learning and Deep Learning: Understanding the core technologies behind generative AI.

  • Types of Generative Models: Learning about key generative models like GANs (Generative Adversarial Networks) and VAEs (Variational Autoencoders), including their mechanisms and applications.


Using Generative AI Tools

To apply generative AI in the workplace, one must master specific tools and techniques.

  • Programming Skills: Learning programming languages such as Python or R, which are commonly used in generative AI.

  • Utilizing AI Platforms: Gaining proficiency in using cloud-based AI platforms like Google Cloud AI, AWS AI, and Microsoft Azure AI.



6. Status of Companies Registered with Jelper Club


Digitalization and Remote Work among Partner Companies

Many companies are registered with Jelper Club, offering a wide range of career opportunities for students. These companies are particularly proactive in digitalization and promoting remote work, making them attractive to students who value flexible working conditions.


When you select "Remote" and "Hybrid" options under Work Type in the "Jobs" section, you'll find multiple positions listed by various companies, including roles such as engineers, project managers, and venture capitalists. Jelper Club continues to attract many appealing companies that will be posting various positions in the future. Be sure to check frequently for new opportunities.



7. Conclusion


Historically, Japan's work environment has been characterized by unique systems such as "lifetime employment" and "seniority-based promotion." However, recent advancements in digitalization and the widespread adoption of remote work are significantly transforming these traditional systems. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the implementation of digital tools and remote work, leading to reduced commuting times and improved work-life balance, among other benefits.

Nevertheless, the transition to remote work has also introduced new challenges, including issues with communication and managing work hours. Despite these challenges, these changes are particularly welcomed by the younger generation and foreign professionals. The increased flexibility in work styles makes Japan an attractive destination for highly skilled international talent considering employment opportunities.


Jelper Club will continue to register companies that actively promote digitalization and remote work, providing diverse career opportunities. By acquiring digital skills, remote work capabilities, and generative AI expertise, global talent can adapt to and thrive in Japan's evolving workplace environment.


At Jelper Club, we're here to support you every step of the way for your career development in Japan. Our platform connects ambitious students from top universities worldwide with exclusive internship and full-time job opportunities in Japan with a variety of Japanese proficiency requirements. We also provide access to practical information, member-only events, and a professional community of like-minded individuals.

 

If you're ready to embark on your own Japanese adventure, visit Jelper Club today and discover how we can help you unlock your potential in Japan.



Sources and Notes


1. 「令和5年 情報通信に関する現状報告の概要 第2部 情報通信分野の現状と課題」(総務省):https://www.soumu.go.jp/johotsusintokei/whitepaper/ja/r05/html/nd24b220.html

「コロナ5類移行でテレワーク制度はどうなった? 全ての世代で9割以上が「継続したい」と回答」(@IT):https://atmarkit.itmedia.co.jp/ait/articles/2312/04/news033.html#:~:text=COVID%2D19%E3%81%AE5%E9%A1%9E,%E3%81%AF8.8%E3%83%9D%E3%82%A4%E3%83%B3%E3%83%88%E4%B8%8A%E6%98%87%E3%81%97%E3%81%9F%E3%80%82

2. 「令和4年度テレワーク人口実態調査-調査結果(概要)-」(国土交通省):https://www.mlit.go.jp/report/press/content/001598357.pdf; "The productivity of working from home: Evidence from Japan”(独立行政法人経済産業研究所):https://www.rieti.go.jp/en/columns/v01_0155.html; "Home-Based Workers and the COVID-19 Pandemic”(American Community Survey Reports):https://www.census.gov/library/publications/2023/acs/acs-52.html; "American Time Use Survey—ATUS 2003‐2021 Multi‐Year Microdata Files”(U.S. BUREAU OF LABOR STATISTICS):https://www.bls.gov/tus/data/datafiles-0321.htm; "Employed persons working from home”(Statistisches Bundesamt):https://www.destatis.de/EN/Themes/Labour/Labour-Market/Quality-Employment/Dimension3/3_11_homeoffice.html; The proportion of remote workers in Japan is defined as the percentage of employed individuals who reported teleworking in their primary job; The proportion of remote workers in the US is defined as the percentage of employed individuals aged 16 and above who reported working from home.

3. 「在宅勤務の割合、2年ぶり上昇 ハイブリッドワーク浸透 コラム」(日本経済新聞):https://www.nikkei.com/article/DGXZQOUC253W00V20C24A6000000/

4. 「トヨタ自動車の工場DXプロジェクト Power Platformと市民開発を武器に 自律的デジタル化によるカイゼンを加速」(クラウド Watch):https://cloud.watch.impress.co.jp/docs/topic/special/1479280.html

5. 「ファミリーマートとTOUCH TO GOが資本業務提携 無人決済システムを活用した実用化店舗第1号店を 東京都千代田区に3月31日(水)オープン ~スピーディで快適なお買い物環境の実現と、店舗オペレーションの省力化を実現~」(FamilyMart):https://www.family.co.jp/company/news_releases/2021/20210309_02.html

6. 「視認性の高い“一覧表示”で、通関業務を効率化業務品質向上や均一化、属人性排除の効果も」(NEC):https://jpn.nec.com/logistics_service/tsuukan/case/nittsu/index.html


(Editor: Jelper Club Editorial Team)

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