We are hearing the phrase “mobile workplace” more often in Tokyo; Weekender wanted to find out more.

Mobile technology does not just mean communication, it means improved business practices. With tablet computers and smartphones for all, it seems like people are constantly connected to the office. So what does this mean for traditional working styles? Do people even need to be in the office and is this why we are seeing more and more unused office space in Tokyo?

Weekender sat with Jessy Takashi Kure of Regus in Japan. Regus is a serviced office provider which does business in over 85 countries and Kure tells us that the increasingly mobile workforce is providing different challenges for many companies.

“Before, work used to be a place you would go to, with a desk and a computer. Now it is something that you do, regardless of where it is,” Kure says. “More and more business is being conducted in what we call the ‘third place’. This could be anywhere, like a library or a coffee shop.” Finding a space for flexibility is really important for this new kind of worker.

Office in TokyoWith video conferencing technology finally advancing to make it a real, efficient and reliable proposition, serviced offices, virtual offices and business lounges are helping companies establish themselves in a new market. Multinational business-people can now sit in the same virtual room as their overseas colleagues and clients.

‘Mobile workforce’ is a phrase which comes up often for Kure and he is keen to explain what it means and why it’s so important. “Office space is so expensive. It is not just the rent, though, you are using so much electricity, your transportation costs are high, many things add up,” he explains. “I think adapting and being more efficient with space can help save companies huge amounts of money.”

On top of the financial benefits there are social advantages, such as being able to get home earlier and environmental advantages like the the reduction of carbon emissions due to now stay-at-home commuters. With this in mind it is not hard to see why there has been a huge increase in the number of mobile workers globally but what about in Japan?

“It hasn’t been as quick to take off here,” says Kure. “Face-to-face mentality is still strong in Japan. People here think they need their own space where coming in to work and seeing your boss is important.” As a result, a great number of Japanese companies are still reluctant to change their business practices but Kure believes things are changing gradually and he is confident about future growth.

But exactly how much has that mindset changed? Following the earthquake and tsunami in Tohoku in March 2011 companies are more aware than ever about the vulnerability of relying on one location. Awareness is just one side though, actually doing something about it is completely different.

Business Lounge“For many it was a real wake up call. It took the earthquake for them to realise that putting all your eggs in one basket was not the most sensible option,” said Mr Kure. “It made them think, rethink and in some cases implement. Yet more than a year later, how many companies have made the necessary changes? Not many!”

It is surprising to hear about the lack proactivity since the events of 2011. Regus found that 68% of Japanese companies do not have a disaster recovery facility to ensure an alternative workspace within 24 hours. This figure is higher than many other countries, which is astonishing considering that Japan is so prone to natural disasters.

Following the earthquake Kure had a number of requests from clients, including one company that asked them to relocate 80 people to Kansai within a week. He says “we didn’t have any space up there so we had to move quickly. It wasn’t just space. We needed desks, phones, Internet connection etc. The fact that we managed to provide them with luxury offices in such a short space of time was mainly down to the great relationship we have with our landlords, IT providers etc.”

Kure doesn’t see such expansion as a risk though. There is room for optimism for the future of a mobile workforce in Japan despite the fact that mobility in the workforce has taken a while to catch on. Kure says, “Japan can be quite slow to adopt new practices but once it has done, it can accelerate at quite a pace.”

by Matthew Holmes (Interview by Ray Pedersen)