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Working from Home During COVID-19: Maintaining a Healthy Balance


It is not all about meetings. How can you work at optimal levels when working from home? This includes not only work productivity but how to maintain a healthy balance between work time at home and off-time at home.

I addressed some things briefly when I responded to a reader in Tokyo, but there is a lot more. It was not easy for me in the beginning years ago. But now I am an old pro at it.

Adjusting to work from home physically is easier than the mental adjustment that must be made for Japanese companies and their workers. In the past couple of days, I read articles in both the Washington Post and the New York Times that are critical about Japanese companies’ lack of preparedness for working from home. Everything said was correct, which is unfortunate, but it needs to be stated boldly so that it can be addressed.

For Japanese business professionals, the first thing that needs to be understood is this: Working from home is working, except you are located in your house. That is all it is, really. If you were a slacker in the office, you are going to be one at home. If you are a diligent and conscientious worker in the office, you will be the same at home. In one of the above-mentioned publications, one concern quoted from a manager is he was “afraid they may be drinking at home.” Well, if they were the kind of worker who had a tendency to drink on the job while working in the office, then yes, more than likely they will do so at home. But if not, then you can let that concern go.

Working from home is both simple and complicated. But the complication does not come from work, it comes from the people themselves. Japanese workers are used to constant oversight and management by their supervisors as stated in one of the articles. That is the major issue that needs to be addressed. Equipment such as laptops can easily be bought. The mentally of Japanese managers and workers regarding working from home is going to be the real challenge, and it will be ongoing even after this pandemic has been overcome.

How to you go about changing a national consciousness? I do not have the answer to that of course, but I do offer the following in these critical times for Japanese companies and workers.

1. Get over the stigma of working from home

First, because you do not have a choice. Second, Japan is lagging in using technology in many ways compared to its counterparts, and it needs to change this or it will not thrive. Adjust your thinking: Japanese companies will not evolve and grow if they do not adapt very quickly to what is happening. Individual workers will not, either.

2. Self-discipline

Prepare for your day mentally. Working from home takes discipline, but it’s not only about what you should do as I mentioned in an earlier post, but also what you shouldn’t do. Do not overwork yourself. Just because you are at home doesn’t mean you are on the clock 24/7. It is up to you to establish boundaries as I mentioned in my response to the reader in Tokyo. But at the same time, you shouldn’t think of this as play time because you are at home. It is still work and you should be working during the hours of 9 to 5 or whatever your regular work schedule is. Don’t procrastinate; get your work done and out of the way, and then you can reward yourself with fun activities.

3. Organize

Your physical workspace and your mind. Yes, this takes effort, but it is the effort that you need to put in to help you perform better and keep balanced throughout this time. And the good thing is what you are being forced to learn now will always serve you going forward.

4. Take breaks

This means literally to “break” away from work. If you are eating at your desk, don’t work while doing so. Read the news, listen to music. Completely disengage from work for a few minutes, especially if you are stuck on a problem. Step away from it, and then come back refreshed.

5. Do something physical

Take 5 minutes each hour to stretch or walk around. It’s important to get your circulation going for your physical health, and it gives your brain a chance to rest or focus on something other than work.

  • Set up an alert on your phone or pay attention to your Fitbit alert if you have one to make sure you get up and do some exercise. Instagram follower @shizen_ryu has been working from home since before the crisis began, and they suggest getting a quick workout in the morning so your body can adjust to sitting at your desk all day.

6. Connect with co-workers

Use company’s intranet platforms to ‘socialize.” Chat about work, yes, but do your “social” check-ins also. This takes the place of stopping by someone’s cubicle or meeting up in the kitchen as if you were in the office.

7. Adjust your thinking

Instead of focusing on all the issues with working from home, focus on some of the benefits.

  • You are NOT commuting! No fighting for a seat, no squished up against people, no jolting of subways cars.
  • You can wake up and take your time to get ready for work. You can eat a proper breakfast. You can make your lunch and control what you eat.
  • You are gaining more free time, as there are no after-work obligations (entertaining clients, etc.)
  • You are saving money.

8. You will be alone, so it is up to you not to be lonely

How you deal with that is up to you. Be proactive in keeping yourself “connected” to people. After work, call your family and friends. Call and use video so you can see people. That visual connection is important, especially now.

9. Find new ways to occupy yourself

Start something new and completely different than anything you have ever done. I took up Bollywood dancing at the suggestion of friend. I put on a video and danced along—I am releasing stress, getting exercise, and to some degree, being silly. Cook, read more, binge-watch Netflix, fold origami, start a new language, take virtual tours of museums to name a few.

Again, working from home is not about working constantly or long times at a stretch; it’s about productivity and balance. The motto that I have displayed on my website for years now is “New conditions in global business and in Japan call for new solutions.” Well here we are, and it is certainly true.

In upcoming posts, we will be talking to a reader to see what their real life working from home experience has been like.

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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