Flexibility key for Japan IT job movers

In early May I posted a poll on LinkedIn asking those thinking about changing their Japan IT jobs this year what was most important to them in looking for a new role.

The results were very interesting:

LinkedIn Poll on Flexiblity

Okay, so 144 votes isn’t a massive number, but I think it’s enough to see that flexible working was a clear winner compared to the other three available options (which include a salary increase).

Times have changed

I’ve become used to job hunters prioritising salary increases over other criteria during my 20+ year career in IT recruitment in Tokyo. However, the pandemic has changed many things, even in a country like Japan that many consider slow to change. And flexible work options have been one of them.

Options to work a few days per week or per month at home and flexitime were becoming increasingly common at multinational companies in Japan over the past 5-10 years (depending, of course, on the type of work), but considered more of a perk (like free lunch) than a reason to pick one employer over another, and rarely an option at Japanese companies, where presenteeism is a well-established part of the working culture.

However, that rare option became less uncommon over the past 12-15 months. According to a survey by the Japan Productivity Center in April 2021, employees working from places other than their regular offices, including home, numbered 19.2% of all workers in Japan that month. 19.2% doesn’t sound like a lot, but considering those unable to work remotely for various reasons (e.g. workers in manufacturing, agriculture, construction, etc.), it equates to a lot of office staff, especially in Tokyo.

On a personal note, my wife works in the import/export division of a large Japanese materials company (the type of company that many people would imagine when they think of a typical ‘domestic’ company). After joining the company in March, and spending a few days at the head office for orientation and on-boarding, the company sent a complete desktop PC setup to our house for her to use for remote work. She’s visited the office once or twice in the past few months for a couple of hours each time to complete work she can’t perform at home. For the rest of the time, she’s in our spare bedroom during the working day and getting her job done without any issues.

Full or hybrid remote work

In my personal experience in the bilingual IT job market, all of the companies I recruit for switched to either a full or partial remote work practice (including allowing staff to visit the office if they want to but not necessarily requiring attendance), and these practices currently remain in place.

Chances are, if you work in the bilingual IT world in Japan and are reading this, you’re probably not reading it at the office. Like me (sitting in my pyjamas in Yokohama), you’re at home or perhaps have even taken the opportunity to get out of the city and work remotely from the countryside (and if you have, I’m very jealous). You are probably not missing the long rush-hour commutes on overcrowded trains, are perhaps enjoying more time with family, and taking advantage of being at home 1 second after switching off your laptop to study something new or get in some exercise. And you’re thinking to yourself, “this is nice”.

Thinking ahead

The Japanese government has set a target of November 2021 to vaccinate all willing Japan residents. So the question then becomes, what happens after that?

Looking overseas, Bloomberg reported in May the results of a survey that stated that 39% of US adults would quit their jobs if they were forced back to the office after Covid. A UK survey, highlighted in The Times, reported that 49% of employees would quit if denied their choice of workplace after the pandemic.

Japan certainly isn’t the US or UK, but as my modest survey shows, tech people here want flexibility.

Japan has a well-known shortage of skilled technology workers and IT recruiting here is very much a candidate-driven market. So if you are a company executive, IT line manager, Human Resources staff or Talent Acquisition person, you need to think about two things carefully over the next few months:

  • How will our post-pandemic work practices affect our ability to hire IT talent in a candidate-short environment?
  • How will our post-pandemic work practices affect our ability to retain the talent we already employ?

If you are a tech person in Japan, you may need to think and plan ahead, depending on what your employer decides over the next few months, especially if you think that remote work options you enjoy will be removed.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

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