Remote work, Corona, The Olympics, and Japan

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics were to be the highlight of the year here in Tokyo. With millions of dollars spent on new buildings and programs to support the Olympic games, we could almost feel the buzz in the air.’Nippon, nippon, nippon 2020!’. This soon-to-be historic event, was not so abruptly stopped by another historic event. The quick moving novel Corona Virus.

With the first real government announcement ‘urging’ Tokyo residents to ‘stay home’, only starting on the weekend of March 28th, the Japanese government has been criticized for not taking action sooner. In comparison surrounding nations such as Korea, China and Singapore starting full lock downs months in advance. Why was the spread reduced in Japan at the beginning when compared to surrounding nations?

One reason, the Olympics. In preparation hundreds of companies had already made the move to a full or partial remote work model; ‘Tele-wa-ku’ in Japanese. This was supported by government programs which were originally meant to reduce public transport congestion during the Olympics games, such as Jisabiz. A large portion of the country was already working remote, pre-corona. Just like a lot of people were already wearing masks due to allergy season. Fewer people commuting in and out of Tokyo, must have helped the situation. It probably also helped companies in the months that were to follow.

Slow reactions, no reactions, or late reactions.

Some have argued that the stringent non-testing practices in Japan have skewed the numbers, so that there are fewer cases than there otherwise would be. For example, the practice of only testing for the disease after four consecutive days of high fever could cause some obvious cases to be excluded from testings. However, the low mortality rate suggests that the disease was not as prevalent at the beginning. If people were widely infected and there was no testing, we should have still seen the mortalities that have been seen in other nations. In the case that Japan really had low infection rates, fast action would have lead to saving lives. Slow action: such as only waiting until after the Olympics have been called off on March 23rd to ‘urge people to stay home’ will in result, lead to the unnecessary loss of life.

The virus seems to be haunting all human celebrations, like a dark shadow that appears a few weeks after, causing mass disruption; Chinese new years, Saint Patricks day, a three day weekend of Japanese Cherry Blossom viewing (March 20th, 21st, 22nd). In Japan, the Official State Of Emergency just started on April 7th. Only time will tell how this will affect the reduction of infections. We all hope that a slow government reaction is better than none.

In the land where corporations have 100 year plans, change in Japan normally happens at glacial speeds. With the Corona outbreak traditional enterprises have been forced to learn a new trick: they have gone ‘reactionary’! If something is occurring we need to react, and we need to do it now. If people are saying ‘go remote’, ‘go remote’, ‘go remote’ it is in fact a good idea to start the process for your company sooner rather than later. Eventually, everyone else will be remote and your enterprise will struggle to catch up. If people are shouting ‘virus’, ‘virus’, ‘virus’, you better start taking measures against it, now. Eventually, all other countries will have limited infections and your country will still be struggling to reduce infections rates.

Slow reaction, no reactions, or late reactions are not optimal for society or for business. Quicker is better: quicker remote work adoption, quicker technological advancement, and quicker measures to prevent disease. We are in a time, where we need to prioritize action over tradition. We all want to go drink sake with our friends, at a picnic underneath a sea of beautiful pink cherry blossoms. However, we shall not. We all need to consciously act to change our cultures, traditions, and behaviors to save lives.



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April 9th, 2020