Japanese Workplaces Become High Tech

Technology is slowly entering the Japanese workplace
Technology is slowly entering the Japanese workplace
Image Credit: Bryan Jones

As managers, we are used to being able to use our manager skills and technology in the workplace. In fact, at this point in time I would guess that most of us could not imagine a day in the office without using the full collection of technology that we have come to rely on. That’s why it can be very startling when we realize that this is not the way that it is everywhere in the world. Sure, I think that we can all agree that in third world nation, they may not have caught up with us yet. However, would you believe that in Japan technology has not yet been allowed into the work place?

Japan’s Workplace

What an outsider needs to understand about the Japanese workplace is that it is very tradition bound. What this means is that the way that things are done today is the way that they have always been done. There has been no reason to change. Examples of how things are done in Japan include the use of fax machines (remember those?), in person meetings, and inked stamps for paper contracts. The work day generally starts with all workers standing at attention as the managers dictate what will be accomplished during the day.

There would have been no reason to change all of this things if it had not been for the arrival of the Covid-19 virus. This arrival has turned the Japanese workplace upside down just like it has disrupted everything else. Companies have started to hold group chats to communicate with workers and more and more workers are starting to discover the joys of email. Meetings are being held using Zoom or Microsoft Teams even though nobody has any manager training to do this. The need for corporate seals on contracts has been eliminated.

These changes may turn out to be permanent for Japan. Once workers discover that they can successfully work from home, managers may have difficulty trying to get them back into the office. These changes may make it easier for foreign companies to do business with Japanese firms. New ways to electronically sign documents are being created and digital versions of traditional stamps are being created. All of these changes are good, however in Japan there are still some things that have yet to be changed.

What Comes Next For Japan

In Japan there are still some clients who refuse to accept an invoice if it has not been stamped. What this means is that a copy of the invoice has to be stored in a company’s office for security purposes. One of the reasons that technology has been so slow to enter into the Japanese workplace is because in Japan most of the businesses are centered in Tokyo. This means that it has been very easy to summon people for face-to-face meetings – before the virus arrived.

Old habits die hard. In Japan, it means that you make a promise when you sign your name and you stamp your seal. There are businesses that still want a piece of paper that says that a seal belongs to its owner. Everything has had to change. The virus has caused 52% of the office workers in Japan to start to work from home. When people started working from home, the sales of personal computers surged by 53% as people upgraded their home systems.

In order to motivate companies to adopt a more digital approach to conducting business, some firms are making changes. Firms have started to charge their business partners for binding paper copies of contracts. Additionally, they are now charging for a stamp as well. The hope is that these types of actions will make people realize that these old ways of doing business are no longer needed and it will motivate them to do away with them.

What All Of This Means For You

Japan is the source of some of the most modern products available in the world. However, the Japanese workplace is most defiantly behind the times. Due to the role that tradition plays in Japanese life, the way that things have been done in Japanese offices has not changed even as technology has entered into other offices around the world. However, the arrival of the Covid-19 virus is starting to change this.

Japanese offices still use fax machines, conduct many face-to-face meetings, and like to ink stamp documents. The Covid-19 virus has disrupted this and has forced people to start to work from home. Because of this, there are now chats being conducted, email is being used, and Zoom and Teams are being used to hold video conferences. All of these changes may have long lasting impacts on how business is conducted in Japan. There are some businesses that are resisting giving up the old way of doing things. Some firms are starting to charge other firms if they still want to conduct business using the old methods.

Change is never easy and in Japan when change causes a lot of people to have to give up time honored traditions, it can be very hard. However, the Covid-19 virus does not play favorites and so Japan, just like the rest of the world, has had to switch to a work-from-home model. This has meant that how business had been conducted had to be changed. The efficiencies of the new way of doing things probably means that the old ways will never come back. We’ll have to keep our eyes on them, but Japan may catch up with how the rest of the world conducts business very quickly!

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that people will keep working from home in Japan even after the virus is gone?

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