May 27th 2018
TOKYO (Kyodo) — In order to meet hiring obligations, companies and local governments are increasingly employing at-home workers who can more easily do their jobs remotely, rather than commuting to the workplace, because of disabilities.
Amid a growing manpower shortage in Japan’s urban areas, more companies are turning to telecommuting or “telework,” a growing trend that makes it possible for people to work from home by utilizing information and mobile telecommunications technology.
In addition to securing a reliable workforce, telework is easing employment concerns for those with physical disabilities and mental disorders, and those who live far outside of major urban areas.
Kazuma Minowa, who lives in the city of Asahikawa in Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost prefecture, began working as a non-regular employee of Tokyo real estate firm Kachi Jutaku Inc. last December. For 21 hours a week, the 32-year-old collects real estate information online and creates floor plans for the firm from a laptop computer.
Fifteen years ago, Minowa developed a mental disorder. Although he had a job several years back, his symptoms worsened and he had to quit after about six months.
Later, he sought the help of an employment agency that suggested he try telework, and he was hired by his current company after attending a telecommuting event last fall.
Minowa’s employer provided him with a computer installed with the necessary software required to do his job, and he is able to communicate with the company’s office in Tokyo at any time via the internet.
“It’s like being at the office. But even if you’re not feeling well, you can take advantage of being at home and work without caring about your surroundings,” said Minowa, who hopes to continue working at his current company for as long as possible.
According to Telework Management, a consultancy firm that works for the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare promoting telecommuting for disabled individuals, more and more people are inquiring about jobs they can do from home.
Last November, the firm immediately filled all of the 120 available seats at a seminar it held in the Tokyo metropolitan area.
In response to growing concerns over labor shortages, the legal requirement on companies to hire disabled workers was raised to 2.2 percent of their workforce in April, and the category was expanded to include people suffering from mental disorders. But amid a shortage of disabled workers in the metropolitan area, companies are seeking employees based outside the city in order to meet their legal requirements.
While companies are only required to hire persons with disabilities if they have 45.5 employees or more, many say their interest in telework is growing regardless of their size.
Masanori Takahashi, the president of the real estate firm where Minowa works, a company with fewer than 20 employees, said, “From now on, the hiring difficulties of small and medium-sized companies will get worse. Telework is essential.”
Local governments, too, are responding to the trend. Since fiscal 2016, Asahikawa officials have held briefing sessions for companies promoting telework for the disabled, resulting so far in 21 people being hired by two private companies outside the city.
Kochi Prefecture on Shikoku island has also advocated telecommuting since the same year, and Fukuoka Prefecture on Kyushu is considering implementing telework promotion in fiscal 2019.
Rie Kuramochi, a consultant for Telework Management, said, “While there are a lot of companies that are concerned about changes in their employees’ health, it’s possible to get support through local disability employment services agencies.”
Kuramochi stressed that it is important for companies to devise ways of sharing work among their employees and that firms should prepare to accept these new hires.