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Business trends

Over 50% of Japanese companies offer telecommuting, survey shows

Corporations tackle scourge of overwork as they strive to improve productivity

More Japanese are working from home as companies try to adhere to government requests that they allow their employees to live a little.

TOKYO -- More than half of Japanese companies in a Nikkei survey have introduced telecommuting programs, testifying to the endeavors corporate Japan is making to loosen the reins on employees and improve productivity at the same time.

The Nikkei Smart Work Management Survey for 2019 received responses from 708 listed and big privately held companies. Of them, 53% said they offer telecommuting, up 8.8 percentage points from 2018.

"Smart work management" describes a strategy to maximize an organization's productivity and other performance parameters by introducing flexibility. The survey examined four areas -- human resources, innovation, market development and management fundamentals -- and evaluated the companies based on points drawn from survey results.

Suntory Holdings, NTT Docomo and 21 other companies won 70 points or more to place in the top echelon. The second tier consisted of 27 companies such as ANA Holdings.

The average return on equity among the top 50 companies was 10%, 1.5 points more than that among all listed companies. ROE measures how effectively management is using a company's assets to create profits.

Nikkei's third smart work survey shows telecommuting is an option in a variety of sectors, including electric power and gas, transportation, and finance, as a core workstyle reform designed to cut back on commuting time and improve the quality of work.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government coined the term "workstyle reform" when it began cajoling corporations to mend cultures that have led to some cases of karoshi, death by overwork.

Compared with the first survey in 2017, the ratio of companies offering telecommuting options has increased by nearly 20 percentage points.

To broadly raise employee morale, many companies have opened telecommuting to more workers, rather than limiting it to those with child-rearing and aged-parent responsibilities. At 52.8% of the 708 companies, employees do not have to meet these or other requirements to be able to work from home, up 6.7 points from the 2018 survey.

All of some 16,000 employees at Tokio Marine & Nichido Fire Insurance, a unit of Tokio Marine Holdings, telecommuted at some point in fiscal 2018; the insurer's employees can choose to work out of their homes or other places.

The amount of hours employees are working is also in flux. Per capita work hours in fiscal 2018 came to 1,997.6, down 0.8% from fiscal 2016 and just shy of eight hours a day based on a five-day workweek. Suntory Holdings achieved a cut to 1,906 hours by automating data input and taking other measures.

As for paid vacations, Japan still lags countries like France, where workers use all of their paid holidays. But Japanese workers are taking more paid days off, consuming 61.4% of these days allotted to them in fiscal 2018, up 2.9 points from fiscal 2016.

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