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Working from Home During COVID-19: Corporate and Work Culture in Times of Crisis


Whatever your company’s culture, good or bad, it will be magnified in times of crisis. If a company has an overall healthy culture to begin with, in many ways these challenging times will be easier to manage.

If it had a problematic or toxic culture, it will be magnified now and make it harder while employees are working home.

In the case of Japan, they are battling additional factors such as Japanese culture and tradition as well as a mindset that is steeped in past inefficiencies that are often held onto at the cost of what I feel should be natural progress. The issues with working from home for Japanese companies existed before this crisis, and they will persist after this crisis has passed unless there is an overall change in mindset and corporate culture.

This week’s posts will focus on some of these aspects that contribute to the added struggle for Japanese firms and their workers.


Technical Vulnerability

If a company is lagging behind in transforming their operations to match the advances in technology, it will be magnified when events make it necessary for the use of technology to continue its operation, and in the end, its existence. In the articles I mentioned in an earlier post, the lack of items as basic as digital signature capability (hanko), laptops, Wi-Fi, etc. is crippling companies.

Even for smaller companies, basics such as switching to digital signatures and having a laptop should not be a major stumbling block in this day and time. If Japan is behind on digitalization, this and any crisis will only be that much more painful for large, medium, or small businesses to remain viable.

©Kristy Pargeter/Dreamstime
©Kristy Pargeter/Dreamstime 

Culture of Fear and Insecurity

If a company has poor leadership in the best of times, it will be magnified in times of crisis. If it is built on micro-managing workers and suppressing creativity and independent thinking, this will be magnified in a time of crisis.

If a manager does not trust his workers to be working diligently while they are WFH as it was stated in one of those articles, that has nothing to do with this crisis. It has to do with the type of worker they are employing and the type of manager. Complete slacking off is one thing, but taking five-minute breaks here and there helps with productivity overall. A New York reader shared with us that micromanaging is causing a lot of added stress and anxiety in workers. Making people feel that they must be in front of their laptops every minute of their workday to prove that they are working is detrimental to their productivity and health. In a country that has a word for “death by overwork” (karoshi), managers should rethink this style of leadership.

It is not rational to use unproven fears—entire work force will slack off or drink during the day if they are working from home—as an excuse not to support working from home in any circumstance. Something that might happen is not reason enough not to do something.

Another concern that is causing fear is that managers might use WFH as an opportunity to re-evaluate a person’s contribution to the company, which could potentially lead to the elimination of positions. This makes not sense to me. As I have said before, the only thing that is changing is the physical location of where the work is performed, not the work itself, the need for the work itself, the capabilities of the person doing the work, the need for that person’s skill to get the work done. None of that is changing, so why would their position be eliminated?

For my next posts, I will dive further into using technology and the importance of communication as it pertains to improving work culture while working from home.


With a background of ten years living in Japan and almost 20 years of experience working with remote teams worldwide, Yvonne Burton, president of Burton Consulting International, provides services including Technology Consulting, Business Communications courses, and Cross-Cultural Training to Japanese firms operating internationally and companies operating in the Japanese market. To learn more about Yvonne and her work, please visit burtonconsulting.biz.

Share this article with friends who may be struggling with establishing a consistent work-from-home routine, especially if they are Japanese or work for a Japanese company. We’d love to know what challenges you’ve been facing as you work from home. Please submit any questions you may have or any topics you would like Yvonne to address by sending an email to susan@japanculture-nyc.com. Yvonne will post here three times a week, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to learn from her.


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