Telework as a Long-term Solution:
Problems and Contradictions to overcome

COVID-19 has spread throughout the world since January 2020, and people are being requested to stay at home and refrain from going out. Telework has drawn attention as an effective means of enabling people to keep working and preventing the spread of infectious diseases. The Japanese government has strongly suggested that all workers should utilize telework from home from February 2020.

In this opinion paper, we report on the results of a survey conducted by Keio University and NIRA on telework as it relates to Japanese workers and discuss problems associated with telework and its impact on lifestyle and work styles. According to the survey, the rate of utilization of telework increased significantly between January 2020 (pre-pandemic) and March 2020 (during the pandemic). However, the rate of utilization of telework varies across industries, occupations, regions, and company size. It is difficult to broadly and uniformly encourage telework for all workers.

Telework is clearly not suitable to some industries and occupations. Telework involves numerous problems and difficulties in relation to company organization, the work environment, and individual workers in many industries and occupations. In particular, face-to-face services (e.g. food and drink, accommodation) are not suited to telework at all. In spite of this, these industries have been requested to shut down for the containment of COVID-19. Even if the government has sought telework to be employed, workers in these industries cannot physically telework. The provision of government support to these industries is therefore an urgent matter under the current circumstances.

Toshihiro Okubo
Professor, Faculty of Economics, Keio University / Senior Adjunct Fellow, Nippon Institute for Research Advancement (NIRA)