USJC Hosts Panel on the Global Digital Transformation and Workforce Trends Impacting the United States and Japan

The Japan Perspectives webinar series returned on March 16 for its third and final installment, which examined how the coronavirus pandemic has drastically altered the ways in which we work and do business by shifting from in-person, cubicle-based workplace models to virtual settings that allow for at-home work. This digital transformation has had impacts beyond the 9-5 work hours, changing where employees work by allowing remote opportunities far away from the company office, in turn creating new trends in hiring practices. Subsequently, personal needs, such as childcare demands, have also undergone changes.

This event brought together a panel of experts to share their own observations and insights on this digital transformation and its societal impacts in the United States and Japan. Speakers included Council Leader Wei Ku, a Partner at PwC Japan who leads the Capital Markets Accounting Advisory Services Group; Akiko Naka, the founder and Chief Executive Officer at the social-recruiting service Wantedly; and Maiko Todoroki, the President of Poppins Corporation and Poppins Holdings Inc., which supports working women and is recognized as a Premier Childcare and Senior Care company in Japan. Council Leader Eric Heenan, founding President at Alaka’i Executive Search, moderated the discussion.

Mr. Ku emphasized the importance of companies investing in tools and technology, as well as extending benefits for childcare and employee well-being. He pointed out that employees and employers are often not in agreement on the future of remote work post-pandemic, citing recent survey data suggesting that slightly over half of employees have indicated that they would prefer to work remotely from home at least three days a week even after the pandemic. Conversely, most employers reported believing that employees should work in-office most days of the week. “For companies, there is no reason for taking no action – the pandemic has clearly changed the way people view work and value life,” he said, recommending companies look into embracing hybrid workstyles and flexible work hours.

The impact of the pandemic isn’t limited to office hours – many families have found new, personal challenges in their households. Ms. Todoroki discussed nursery schools in Japan and other home services her company provides, and the adaptations they have undergone to account for supporting families and essential workers. For instance, her company created an innovative online nanny service to help parents who were overburdened with both work and childcare. Additionally, her company helps care for the elderly, which put a similar extra strain on busy families in Japan, who typically care for aging parents at home.

Ms. Naka offered her thoughts on changes in Japanese hiring practices as a result of the pandemic and other societal developments. Niche markets, such as tech industries hiring engineers or designers, may become more inclined to hire foreign workers without fluent Japanese abilities, though large enterprises have not seen much change in hiring practices. She stated that, despite current labor shortages, Japanese society has been reluctant to wholly welcome immigrants from other countries, but some sectors are embracing foreign workers. She recommended that workers seeking positions in Japan continue to prioritize learning at least some level of Japanese – but there may be some exceptions for those with highly sought-after skillsets, including coding and engineering.

On the topic of the post-pandemic future, the speakers were hesitant to declare the permanence of pandemic-era workforce changes, suggesting that it may depend on the sector – and changes in Japan especially may depend on workplace culture, with Mr. Ku noting that senior-level workers tend to like to work in-office, which pressures lower-level employees to come in as well. Still, he noted, now is the time for companies to set a precedent that emphasizes employee well-being.

This webinar is available for online viewing here.