TOKYO -- Hitachi plans to expand the scope of employees who can work remotely, at home or on the go -- totaling an unprecedented 100,000 staffers within the next two or three years.
The more than century-old company is known for its conservative corporate culture and its embrace of telecommuting is expected to set an example for other Japanese manufacturers to follow suit.
With a payroll of 300,000, Hitachi is second only to Toyota Motor among Japanese companies in workforce size. Toyota has 360,000. With its large number of labor union members, Hitachi is regarded as a model of wage and employment policy for Japan's other manufacturers.
The Japanese industrial giant will increase the number of satellite offices that can accommodate telecommuters and develop a secure network infrastructure so that information can be transferred safely. Over half of Hitachi's domestic workforce will be able to adopt the new workstyle.
The company expects the new scheme to be used predominantly by employees at its operations in Japan.
The plan is aimed at improving work efficiency by reducing commute time and to create a more flexible work environment for employees with different needs.
An attempt to allow more employees to take up flexible working by a big company like Hitachi is a welcome development for the Japanese government, which is promoting work-style reforms. The government believes such reforms are the key to addressing the country's growing labor shortage due to its declining and aging population, as flexible work styles can improve the productivity of Japanese society overall.
Hitachi also plans to use the know-how gained from introducing the system to develop a package solution, including equipment, system and structure, to enable businesses to introduce similar reforms.
Increasing numbers of Japanese companies are starting to allow employees to work from home, and Hitachi foresees the product appealing to small businesses that do not have the resources to develop such systems in-house.
Initiatives like these tie in with the Japanese government's work-style reform drive, aimed at curbing excessive work hours.
Hitachi has about 300,000 employees worldwide, including 170,000 in Japan. As of now, 8,000 to 15,000 work remotely. The company decided to expand the scope of remote work after a total of 90,000 employees expressed a desire to do so in an in-house survey.
Other major companies where telecommuting is available include Fujitsu and Tokio Marine & Nichido Fire Insurance, whose telecommuting staffs total about 10,000 and 17,000, respectively.
Hitachi currently has 40 telecommuting satellite offices, mainly in the Tokyo metropolitan area. It set up the first one in 2016, and plans to make use of share-office services to increase that figure.
Hitachi has already developed a system to enable employees to securely access company servers from outside the office. It also plans to enhance the security of access to external servers, in anticipation of the increased number of telecommuters.
Hitachi employees are currently allowed to choose any day to work from home for any number of times a year, regardless of their division. This allows them to tend to children or spend time on other activities as long as their work permits it. The company also has a system allowing employees to videoconference with people at the office as well as external business associates, for which it has provided 30,000 sets of display monitors and headsets to them.
The average overtime for all Hitachi employees totaled 26.2 hours per month in the year ended March 2018, decreasing three hours from two years earlier, after the telecommuting system was introduced.
As part of its efforts to promote telecommuting, the government ran a "Telework Days" campaign in which over 1,000 participating organizations encouraged their employees to work remotely over five weekdays starting July 23.
At the end of July, 13.9% of companies allowed telecommuting, and the government aims to raise the percentage to over 30% by 2020. Hitachi's plan is radical in that it permits telecommuting by over half of its local employees.
Hitachi aims to incorporate the planned telecommuting solution into its Lumada internet-of-things platform, which it aims to grow into a key earner for the company.
In the U.S., however, there are views emerging that telecommuting may negatively impact productivity, and some companies, including Yahoo and IBM, have reduced telecommuting staff. These companies have realized that telecommuting has reduced opportunities for employees to communicate with each other and has negatively affected information sharing and bonding among team members. Hitachi's endeavor may prove to be a litmus test on whether Japanese companies can embrace telecommuting.