Fujitsu to halve office space in 3 years, citing 'new normal'

TOKYO • While much of Japan continues to debate the pros and cons of remote working, one of the country's largest employers has made up its mind - and it could be a bad sign for the office sector.

Fujitsu said it will cut its office space in Japan by 50 per cent over the next three years, encouraging 80,000 office workers to primarily work from home in what it termed a "Work Life Shift for the new normal".

"We will change the conventional concept of workers commuting to a fixed office and, through high autonomy and mutual trust between employees, deliver value to clients," Fujitsu said in a statement.

The plan calls for a 5,000 yen ($65) a month stipend for workers to set up their home office environment in lieu of an existing commuting allowance and turning all existing offices to "hot-desking", an approach many offices are currently discouraging to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Fujitsu is Japan's 17th largest publicly traded employer, according to Bloomberg data, with almost 130,000 workers. Factory staff will not be affected by the move.

The company also recently made headlines as the maker of the world's fastest supercomputer, named Fugaku, which is being used to help identify potential Covid-19 treatments and predict the flow of virus-laden droplets.

While some of Fujitsu's initiative could be driven by marketing concerns - the company sells technology that supports remote working - it does not augur well for Japan's office sector in a post-Covid-19 world. Many traditionally minded companies have called for employees to return to their offices, but face resistance among their staff.

A survey conducted in May by the Japan Productivity Centre found that more than 60 per cent of respondents wanted to continue working remotely even after the pandemic is contained. A Cabinet Office poll showed increased levels of interest from 25 per cent of city dwellers in moving to the country.

Snack maker Calbee also introduced a system for its 800 office workers to work from home full-time. It expects about 30 per cent of its staff to go to the office.

Tokyo's office vacancies have begun to tick up over the past months, rising to 1.64 per cent in May, according to Miki Shoji data - going up for three straight months for the first time since 2012.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 07, 2020, with the headline 'Fujitsu to halve office space in 3 years, citing 'new normal''. Subscribe