Teleworkers key to clearing Olympic gridlock in Tokyo | Inquirer Sports

Teleworkers key to clearing Olympic gridlock in Tokyo

/ 01:23 PM December 12, 2019

TOKYO — The Japanese government this past summer called on companies to increase the number of employees working remotely — with the aim of alleviating gridlock during the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics — but the effort only reduced the average number of commuters per day in Tokyo’s 23 wards by about 268,000,  compared to figures immediately before the program, the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry said.

More than 10 million spectators are among those expected to crowd Tokyo during the Games, and government officials pointed out: “This is still not enough when considering the turnout for the Olympics.”

On a Friday in the middle of last month, Ricoh Co., a major precision equipment maker based in Ota Ward, Tokyo, closed its reception desk and retail store, and had only about 10% of its regular workforce in its office.

The company has been holding telework days since the summer. “We plan to close the head office for two weeks during the Olympics. We want our employees to get used to working off-site,” said a 40-year-old official of the firm’s human resources department.


The company also participated in the government’s “Telework Days” between July 22 and Sept. 6. The effort called on companies to implement activities such as having employees work from home for at least five days during the program.

About 680,000 workers from 2,424 companies and organizations nationwide participated. By industry, the information and telecommunications and the service industries combined to account for about half of the participating firms.

A contractor for the national government analyzed the movements of people aged 20 to 64 based on mobile phone location data and other information. During the period, an average of about 2,653,700 workers commuted by train, car, on foot or by other means each day throughout Tokyo’s 23 wards. Saturdays, Sundays and the Bon holidays were not included in the analysis.

The figure was about 9.2% below the daily average of 2,922,100 people recorded immediately before the program in early and mid-July.


The ministry concluded that teleworking had a major effect on reducing the number of commuters, even considering many workers took summer vacation during this time. The reduction was particularly noticeable in Chiyoda, Minato, Shinjuku and Chuo wards, home to numerous office buildings.

During the 2012 London Games, about 80% of companies implemented some kind of telework, holiday scheme or other measures that successfully resolved congestion in the city.


The government sees telework as its ace in the hole for relieving gridlock during the Tokyo Games.

A 2018 nationwide survey of companies with at least 100 employees found that about 19% of firms had introduced teleworking. The government wants to raise this to 34.5% by 2020.

The government expects domestic and foreign spectators, among others, to increase the number of railway users by about 10% during the Olympics. As this is similar to reduction in commuters because of this past summer’s teleworking endeavor, there is heavy concern that gridlock will not be resolved if things remain as is.

“Eliminating the time spent commuting lets people use time more meaningfully, and that could help reform working styles. We hope [companies] will cooperate to help make the Olympics a success, but also to create a legacy that lasts after the Games,” a ministry official in charge of the matter said.

■ Telework

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A method of working that allows employees to work remotely using communications devices and other means instead of traveling to offices. This includes working at home, at satellite offices or other places provided by other firms, and mobile work at out-of-office work sites. The advantages of this method of work include increased efficiency and the ability to combine work with childcare or nursing care.

TAGS: Asia, Japan, Olympics, Sports, Tokyo, traffic

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