September 28, 2020 [No.80-2020]
AOTS-HRM & IR News Editorial Staff
Experiences Working From Home in Response to Stay-at-Home Request
Part 2: Disadvantages of working from home
In the second part of this two-part series, we will discuss disadvantages of working from home while the first part describes good points. First, one disadvantage is difficulty in time management. When we work in an office, “on-the-job mode” seems to switch on while commuting and switch off while going home. However, there is no natural impetus to turn this switch on and off when we work at home. We tend to feel more inattentive at home where we spend private time. This may even cause longer working hours if we cannot differentiate job time from private time by ourselves. In today's Japan, news reports that many people work unreported overtime while working from home. This is not always because it is difficult to differentiate job time from private time, but often because Japanese people hesitate to apply to work overtime while working from home even though they work intensively. Some Japanese tend to continue improving a task until they believe it is the best it can be. We can say that time management is a difficult challenge when working from home.
For better time management while working from home, one of our editorial staff members carried out the following way: “AOTS has a flextime system, but I worked the same hours every day instead of using flextime until I built up a steady working rhythm. I also needed to be careful about using my smartphone in order to concentrate on work. In the office I keep my smartphone in my desk drawer and do not pay attention to it, but while working from home I used it to check work-related emails and often found that my attention was distracted. In order to solve this problem I set a timer to divide job time and made clear what tasks I would finish within the set time limit.”
Another disadvantage is poor communication among team members. When we work in an office, we frequently talk about job procedures and problems with team members and at times chat with them. Such small talk can lead to trust building and a better work performance. However, when we work from home, we tend to lose such communication. This may be a slight exaggeration, but it may cause a sense of isolation and lower employee loyalty and motivation. Another issue is that while working from home most of communication tends to be vertical between employees and their superiors by email. However, horizontal communication among team members is also important to proceed with projects by collaborating with each other. If such teamwork does not work well when tele-working, it would sometimes be difficult to achieve the same results as the ones we get when working in an office. Some people say that necessary information is not well shared while working from home so that they are unsure how projects are going or who is doing what. For such reasons, it is important to set up an opportunity for team members to meet each other, for example using an online meeting tool or face-to face in an office. It is also important for each member to try to communicate proactively.
The third disadvantage is about health. Have you ever heard the term “disuse syndrome”? It is a term used widely in connection with decreased physical functions of the elderly. It also seems applicable to tele-working under stay-at-home requests. When we work in an office, many people walk to and from the office and keep standing in the train for commuting and move around inside the office. On the other hand, when we worked at home under stay-at-home requests, many people spent most of their time in their house and rarely walked more than a few steps. Moreover, they kept seated in the same posture looking at a computer screen for hours, which tends to cause stiff and weakened muscles. There was a case in Japan that industrial accident compensation insurance was paid to the person who fell over when he or she tried sitting down after coming back from the restroom during tele-working. This shows how important it is to maintain muscle through some exercises.
In this two-part series, we considered good points and disadvantages of working from home. It seems that many people agree with the view that steady adoption of tele-working should be promoted in order to realize a healthy work-life balance and resolve Japan’s labor shortage. Then, how should we proceed with it? When we reform employment system, we should usually review it over a considerable period of time. However, we need to make practical improvements seeking out the best mixture of working in an office and working from home while implementing measures of the existing system since Japan’s work style reform is intended in part to resolve the immediate labor shortage resulting from aged society and low birth rate. We hope that the semi-forced trend toward tele-working in response to COVID-19 will stimulate Japan’s work style reform.
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