Trap in Remote Work
Time will come to regain daily routine in a new normal
In the world of pandemic, most urban professionals are tightly locked to stay home from Monday to Friday in Tokyo. They can avoid painful commuting experience in the rush hour at 8:00 am in the morning in Shinjuku. The governor of Tokyo, Ms. Koike, announced this week, that she asks for further cooperation to combat the corona virus crisis and requested that Tokyoites stay alert until the end of May. It is too long to wait for the release of restrictions in May. Every year, May is the month to go out for BBQ picnic near the water front of Sumida river. Along the river, nobody takes to the street during lunch hours now. Instead, urban residents are getting used to Zoom, a video conference standard, to keep up the good work at home.
Remote work is not a new work style for Tokyoites. In 2009, my employer, Unisys Japan, initiated a corporate-wide project for all 3,000 employees in Toyosu, a district of fish market in Tokyo, to work from home. They don’t have enough space on the thirty-story office tower. The initiative came on to managers from the top floor. Only a few software developers raised their left hands to retreat from the congested office plan. I agreed with the project’s mission and talked to my boss for a while. I decided to work from home, a one-hour half distant to the office, from 2009 to 2010. Consequently, it didn’t work well for me and the employer.
My experience at remote work met a temporal joy and a consequential failure. One big reason is transportation. A lot of city dwellers want to work at home in pandemic time. They are pleased with instant benefits; waking up as late as 7:00 am to eat breakfast at very slow pace and sip two or three cups of coffee until 8:30, skipping a dress-up with tie appropriate for the office to look professional, and saving a lot of trouble to walk to the bus stop for a ride in extremely packed train. It is indeed a serious torture to commute by packed trains to downtown Tokyo. The train ride gives terrible experience when passengers change trains because a crowd of fast moving business soldiers are bumping into each other on the narrow steps on the platform. Smartphone users don’t pay attention to other passengers. This caused a lot of troubles on the way. Remote work is a relief to save transportation mess but Tokyoites don’t know unexpected downside.
It is a disruption of daily routine. As it turned out, I worked home from Monday to Friday for a full year. Remote work season was over in March 2010. It was a disaster to get used to a new normal. I had to go through packed train exercise to the small office. It was huge retraining program to get up in the early morning for a while. I had to go to bed as early as 9:00 pm and get up 5:00 am for resumption. My wife and son were still sleeping at 5:00 am. I got used to a slow eating of breakfast as a habit. I couldn’t eat it faster enough to catch the train a lot. Missing the train is a big trouble. Worst of all, I lost tactics to survive a pack of commuter train ride, which is a huge deal and I felt so exhausted from riding a JR train back home to restart a new office life.
The employer didn’t pay for a commuter pass between the home and the office, either. Commuter pass is a very convenient because the pass holder can go to any places between two entry locations without additional fares. At each time, a charge is absorbed from each ride in Tokyo.
My work pushed me around on the enterprise application to design a blueprint. It is a knowledge work for software developer. But this required a careful planning of creative work. I used to do a daily scheduling on the train for a long time. The daily routine clarified my goal on weekly basis before going to the office. The output had to be regularly examined by project members to ensure the quality. Although I frequently communicated with the project group by emails, the response was delayed and the feedback was very late for more than two weeks. It turned out to be a messy isolated project. I lost a touch of group working environment. What I learned from remote work is that one should not stay home all week long. Even in pandemic, you should go to office a couple of days a week to ensure the quality of work in progress. The employer terminated the experimental project within a year.