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Japanese companies are trying to live up to a work style reform buzz by creating office environments that help their employees get things done more efficiently.
Business trends

How Japan's tight labor market creates demand for office chairs

Fuji Xerox, Fitbit, Hitachi and Kokuyo reap the benenfits of 'work-style reform'

AKANE OKUTSU, Nikkei Staff Writer | Japan

TOKYO -- Corporate Japan needs some solutions. At the same time a labor shortage is beginning to bite, concerns are growing about the health of employees who put in long overtime hours.

Japan's parliament in June passed work-style reform legislation that limits overtime work, though it does not apply to all skilled white-collar workers.

"Work-style reform" has actually become a buzz phrase in corporate circles as employers search for ways to help employees work more efficiently.

One company benefiting from the trend is Workday, a U.S. provider of human resource and financial management systems. The company's Japan office was set up in 2013, and Workday has sold systems to companies like Hitachi and Nissan Motor.

Workday generated revenue of $2.1 billion in the fiscal year through January.

Workday products help manage talent, payroll and training. They work on the cloud and adapt to the customs and cultures of the countries that multinationals operate in. Unilever and Johnson & Johnson are two of the big corporations that make use of the tools.

When multinationals cross borders, they might leave a country where it is customary to collect information on employees' religion and enter another nation that considers this tantamount to discrimination. Workday helps its clients navigate these differences.

The company is increasing its Japan workforce, said Rob Wells, president of Workday's Japan operations. It wants to fill jobs in sales, product development, consulting and customer support.

Workday is also investing more in developing products to reflect the voices of Japanese companies. Partners such as Deloitte Consulting and IBM assist clients in implementing Workday systems, making sure company-specific needs are taken care of.

According to research by Tokyo-based NTT Data Institute of Management Consulting, more Japanese companies in recent years have been undertaking what the nation has come to call work-style reforms. A recent survey shows 38.9% of respondent companies are on the bandwagon, up 16.7 points from 2015.

The survey defines work-style reforms as changes to workplace environments and processes, management taking measures to promote the work-life balance of employees, and efforts to prevent harassment. Work-style reforms can also include outfitting an office with more comfortable seating and otherwise improving ergonomics.

Several companies wanting to ride the trend showcased products at an "work style reform EXPO" exhibition, held in Tokyo in July.

Fitbit, the American startup known for its health-tracking wristbands, was pitching companies on the idea of buying its devices for their employees. Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Himawari Life Insurance and an advertising agency have already done this.

Hitachi and several other companies were selling process automation systems that allow front and back office operations to be taken care of by smart machines.

Other companies are edging into the market for telecommuting gear. Systems integration company Fuji Soft showed off a Lenovo device with a screen and speaker for use during video conferences.

Fuji Xerox showcased a wearable device that keeps track of where employees are in the office and when they say something. The office equipment maker is telling employers that the devices can improve offices by identifying unused and crowded locations, and by learning whether there is effective communication between employees.

Kokuyo, a Japanese stationery and furniture company, showcased an office chair built with myriad joints that allow it to move along with an occupant's subtle or not-so-subtle movements. Lean back, and the chair conforms to the spine's S-shaped curve. Swivel your hips from side to side, and the chair swivels with you.

Kokuyo says the chair was designed to prevent the bodily harm that can set in after sitting and typing away at a keyboard for hours on end.

According to Kokuyo's marketing division, sales to offices have increased in the past year as more companies come to believe that helping workers stay healthy reduces costs associated with sick days and employee churn.

"Right now," Workday's Wells said, "the market is in Japan."

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