Three common misconceptions in Japan about hot desking and mobile work
The obvious benefits of a non-territorial work environment are often appealing to both workers and managers of Japanese offices. What sales director in Japan never dreamed of kicking his sales force out of the office? Which CFO would not take the opportunity of cutting down the expensive number of tsubo he rents in Tokyo every month, by reducing the workstation footprint in the company? Not to mention the younger generation of workers, already used to be productive anywhere thanks to their natural acquaintance with the latest mobile technologies.
Even if the deployment of hot desking – and of flexible work environments in general – should be encouraged in Japan, this kind of decision should not be made by company managers for the “wrong” reasons. Many decision makers must still be educated on what hot desking is about, and what really is at stake when switching to this work environment in an office.
Through different experiences and interviews with our Japanese clients, we often meet the same misconceptions about hot desking solutions. We will focus below on the three “inaccurate” ideas we have heard the most about mobile work and non-territorial work places.
“Reducing the number of desks, helps to save on office rent”
It is true that you can reduce the total footprint dedicated to workstations in an office when you implement a hot desking solution. But reducing the total number of desks by 15% or 25% in an office does not mean that you do not need the corresponding floor space anymore. In fact, a hot desking area needs some support functions to keep the overall workplace afloat. Support functions used by mobile workers include document and material storage areas (like private lockers or filing cabinets), internal communication areas (gathering places for relaxation or informal meeting), places for specific tasks and productivity (concentration booths, project rooms etc) and so on. Furthermore, the type and size of support areas varies from a company to another, depending of the specific needs and activities of mobile workers. The bottom line of hot desking is more about having people work differently in an office, rather than reducing the floor space.
“Mobile workers do not have to come to the office anyway”
Our response to this idea is “and when you have general meetings, where do you put these people?” The view that “if some people are not working in office all the time, then they don’t need a place to sit at all” seems particularly widespread among sedentary workers. However, even if mobile workers are not present eight hours a-day in the office, they are full members of the organization. These workers should feel that they belong to the corporate space. Even if the permanent foot print of mobile workers in the office is reduced compared to sedentary workers, the office space must be able to accommodate the total headcount of the organization when it is needed. This could be achieved by using meeting spaces or refresh spaces for temporary gatherings for all company employees.
“Where are they? Mobile workers are difficult to manage…..”
In Japanese corporate sociology, it is typical to have mid-level managers or upper managers in close physical proximity to their subordinates. Most often, all members of the same department are seated at the same desk “island”, and the department manager is seated at the extremity of this territory. A manager seated in a private office could be easily considered as “too far away” from his troops for commanding them efficiently. This geographical immediacy required by the managers sometimes becomes a cause for resisting to the implementation of a non-territorial office. In these cases, the managers are concerned about loosing their grip on some subordinates because the territorial control on the work force is lost. Such concerns should not be disregarded as irrational, and on the contrary, managers may need some help for adapting their usual methods (communication, reporting, performance tracking etc) to a non-territorial work style. New mobile technologies may be the favorite tools of the managers to virtually regain ground with their team and replace the former territorial control.