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Business trends

To avoid Olympic crowds, Tokyo companies say skip the office

Ricoh will close headquarters during games, joining others in using telework

The Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic games in 2020 are expected to worsen the city's already heavy traffic and train congestion.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- With the Olympic and Paralympic games expected to draw massive crowds to Tokyo next summer, Japanese companies are promoting remote work as a way to cope with congestion in the capital city.

Office equipment maker Ricoh has decided to close its headquarters in Tokyo's Ota Ward for two weeks during the 2020 Games. About 2,000 employees will work from home or at other locations, excluding those who need to be in the office for reasons such as meeting with customers or testing products.

To prepare, Ricoh will join in the Japanese government's latest "Telework Days" campaign starting in late July, around the time the Olympics will begin next year. The company will set up satellite work sites near the headquarters and other main offices.

Other businesses are using Telework Days to test strategies for dealing with the Olympics.

About 34,000 of information technology company NEC's 60,000 employees eligible to work remotely will participate this year. They will be allowed to work from home for five consecutive days, with access to satellite workspaces available as needed for those in the Tokyo area. Salespeople will go straight to their clients, instead of stopping at an office on the way.

IT group Fujitsu intends to set up four temporary satellite offices in the Tokyo region during the Olympics, letting 10,000 of its employees work remotely five days in a row. Outsourcing company Accenture is encouraging workers to take their vacations to coincide with the games. IT systems builders SCSK and NTT Data and tire maker Bridgestone are exploring similar options as well.

Automaker Subaru aims to introduce new options for work, including telecommuting, as early as July. Even Osaka-based Panasonic has urged all employees in Japan to try working from home or commuting outside rush hour as much as possible.

Telecommuting is becoming more common in Japan, with 19.1% of companies providing the option in 2018, up 5.2 percentage points from the previous year, according to a government survey. Another 7.2% are considering the possibility as well.

Telework Days is designed to encourage more people to work remotely. About 1,700 groups and 300,000 workers took part in 2018, which reportedly reduced the number of commuters into Tokyo's 23 wards by 400,000.

The government hopes to boost participation this year to 3,000 groups and over 600,000 workers.

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