Updated February 16, 2024
The State of Remote Work in Japan
Many people in Japan are working remotely.
And while the pandemic helped remote work become more popular, the concept has been in the peripheral vision of employees for a while.
As the business world was theorizing about the cost-effectiveness and productivity-increasing effects of remote work, the pandemic hit us like a truck and expedited the process immensely.
Now we’re in the “post-pandemic” era, and people have bonded with the idea of working from their homes. In fact, working from home has become the norm for many industries — including in Japan. However, a little chatter is now slowly rising.
Is it finally time to return to the office?
Well, according to some, the answer is a big no.
Since many are looking for remote jobs, I wanted to explain the current state of Japan’s remote work scene and discuss the opportunities in today’s post.
Let’s dive right in.
The State of Working Remotely in Japan: Post-Pandemic
Let’s get one thing clear first. Japan never truly got used to the idea of working from home in the first place.
Even at the height of the pandemic, only some companies adopted the idea of working from home. As you may have guessed, most of those were local and international tech companies.
Last year, while the pandemic was still alive and kicking, the popularity of remote work in Japan only increased to 20 percent since the beginning of the pandemic. This number was already at 10% before the pandemic.
That’s 80 percent still working at the office, and only 10 percentage points worth of increase overall. For reference, in the United States, the popularity of remote work went from 17% to a whopping 44%.
It’s not that businesses don’t want it either. It’s an unusual concept for the Japanese culture, but many companies did allow their employees to work from home when COVID cases were through the roof.
People just didn’t leave.
Now, even the ones that left have returned. It’s reported that over 70 percent of Japanese companies are back to full-time office work, with many more expecting to return soon.
Fortunately, that isn’t true for tech companies. Many switched to remote during the pandemic, and most continue supporting full-time or partial remote work.
Work From Home: Is It Still a Trend?
In Japan, remote working doesn’t work for many industries, especially the ones that are more traditional.
The traditional Japanese work structure is rigid, and the processes mostly rely on human interaction. The autonomy needed for remote work isn’t something people want to get used to.
On the other hand, the same can’t be said for companies in the tech world. Tech companies have the advantage of having a more modern work structure, and most work can be done remotely.
Startups are the same as well. They have the benefit of having a more modern structure. You’ll see in a bit that the earliest adopters of full-time remote work are all startups. I talked about the startup scene in Japan in more detail in a different post if you’re curious.
Companies That Allow Countrywide Remote Work
The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic saw a massive rise in remote work, as it became the only way to continue operating for many industries. While many companies in Japan only saw remote work as a temporary solution, some bit the bullet and went fully remote.
Here are some examples from the tech world.
Mercari is Japan’s largest C2C marketplace, where users can easily buy and sell used items. The company is Japan's first tech unicorn, an unofficial title for startups that reach a billion USD in value in their first year of operation.
Coming from startup roots and being a tech company, Mercari’s among the earliest to implement a fully-remote system in response to the pandemic.
After a temporary switch to working from home last year, the company announced its new policy, “your choice.” The new policy allows employees to choose when they come to the office.
If the employees don’t want to come to the office at all, they can also work fully remotely.
This allows the employees to work wherever they want. The only caveat is that working remotely outside of Japan isn’t allowed.
PayPay is a fintech company that provides cashless payment systems to e-commerce websites.
The fintech company embraced full-time remote work relatively early on, just like Mercari. They describe their new work style as “never-ending full remote,” and it’s aptly titled “WFA (Work From Anywhere).”
PayPay says that they’re not planning on returning to the office. Home is the primary place of work, and visiting the office is optional. You might have to go to the office if you’re absolutely needed, but the company promises that this is only for some departments and is very rare.
The company also gives an allowance of 100,000 JPY to its employees that work from home.
Moneytree is another fintech company on the list, and it provides banking solutions and financial services to banks and other fin-tech companies. They also have an app that lets you manage your finances.
Moneytree may not have fancy titles and announcements for its new remote work style like Mercari or PayPay, but it’s true nonetheless. The company allows employees to work remotely full-time, as long as they don’t leave the country.
Just like PayPay, Moneytree is also dead-set on continuing this new system. They claim that they have no intentions to return to the office.
Companies That Allow Worldwide Remote Work
The companies I mentioned above might’ve embraced the concept of working remotely, but true remote work, by nature, knows no bounds.
The companies I describe below not only work remotely full-time but also allow you to work from wherever you want in the world.
Autify is another startup on this list, and it’s a company that provides an AI-powered test automation platform.
Autify’s website welcomes you with a warm “Join us from anywhere.” The company allows people from anywhere in the world to work for them.
In fact, Autify is so flexible that the company doesn’t even have core working hours. Employees are free to choose their work hours, as long as they work an average of 8 hours daily.
Since anyone from anywhere in the world can work at Autify, the official company language is English, so no Japanese is required.
KOMOJU is a payment service that provides payment solutions for well-known platforms like Steam and TikTok. The company has a flat management style, and the employees have lots of autonomy thanks to that.
Working from home is pretty standard at KOMOJU, and the company allows employees to work from anywhere in the world.
The work culture at KOMOJU isn’t very strict either. Employees can decide on which hours they’ll work. The only requirement is that at least a portion of the working hours is between the usual working hours of the company, which is between 10 AM and 7 PM Japan time.
Honestly, considering KOMOJU’s relaxed approach to managing employees, the hour requirement is more of a sensible request than a restriction.
MakeLeaps is a company that provides invoicing software solutions for individuals and businesses.
MakeLeaps is another early adopter of full-time remote work, even compared to others on this post. The company implemented a “work from anywhere” policy in 2020, claiming they “never looked back since.”
Unlike companies like Autify, Makeleaps does have core working hours, which are between 11 AM and 4 PM.
The company currently has employees from 14 countries and is open to expanding this list.
Issues Related to Remote Work
It isn’t all roses, of course. I also want to talk about some of the issues that arise with remote work.
Yes, working from home is great. It saves you time and energy that you can instead channel into your work or general well-being.
On the other hand, while employees enjoy the perks of remote work, employers have to deal with new costs. Electricity bills may be reduced, and the monthly coffee cost might have decreased, but that doesn’t make much difference as long as there’s still a physical office to maintain.
Besides, working from home means employees need the same equipment at the office in their homes too. This leads to new costs, such as remote work allowances or stipends.
Micromanagement and Unpaid Overtime
Employees now have a new problem on their hands with the blurred lines of work and personal life. It’s not ideal, but it’s not unheard of for companies to micromanage their employees who work remotely.
This is a problem with the culture of the company, of course. Some employers may get too controlling and implement crazy measures to detect if their employees are working. Others think working from home is lazy and try to work you to death, disregarding work hours.
Final Word: Is Remote Work Here To Stay?
For now, remote work seems to be a trend that’s still on the rise, even with the effects of the pandemic slowly diminishing.
Many companies that switched to remote work promise to never return to the office. According to Forbes, the trend is still rising and is expected to continue in 2023. 25% of all professional jobs in North America are expected to be remote by the end of this year.
It may be slightly different in Japan due to the culture, but at least tech startups and international tech companies seem to be synced up with the rest of the world on this. There are always several listings on Japan Dev. You can check out the remote job listings on the Japan Dev website to see for yourself.
All in all, it looks like remote work isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. When the novelty wears off and working from home becomes standard, I’m sure even the companies that resist will have to implement it one way or another.
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