The Mobile Workplace Makes It Easier to Work Anytime, Anywhere
Many workers will, at some point in their career, experience the dilemma of balancing work life with the responsibility of raising a family or caring for an elderly relative.
Fujitsu has been developing structures and mechanisms to facilitate innovative working arrangements under a global initiative to promote a more innovation-oriented corporate culture as part of a company-wide innovation program to coincide with the 80th anniversary of the Fujitsu Group. The ultimate aim is to provide a workplace environment that is accommodating of the personal circumstances of each and every employee, with fewer restrictions on when and where work can be performed.
One such structure is the mobile workplace, a flexibility initiative that allows employees with home duties to complete some tasks at home. An employee with a young child, for example, could drop the child off at kindergarten in the morning, work at home until lunchtime and then finish the working day at the office. This initiative would also benefit the company by alleviating the mental and physical stress on employees and reducing the incidence of time being taken off for childcare or caregiving.
At Fujitsu, a validation trial of the mobile workplace initiative is currently underway with a view to full implementation during FY2015. Employees with young children were invited to a workshop at Fujitsu head office in Shiodome, Tokyo on August 18 to discuss ideas for mobile workplace solutions designed to accommodate a range of individual family circumstances and situations.
Nearly Every Employee Has to Juggle Work and Family Commitments at Some Stage
The workshop was attended by 16 male and female employees who have young children.
Each participant was asked to write their nickname on a name tag. They then used this to introduce themselves, without stating their full name or their job title at Fujitsu. The aim was to ignore the constraints of the workplace in order to promote free and unfettered discussion in a relaxed atmosphere.
The participants were split into three groups for the first task, which was to describe the challenges of balancing work and family commitments. Large sheets of butcher’s paper were provided for jotting down notes and observations, and this was used to share personal experiences in the group. One employee, for instance, related how the combination of reduced hours and a child frequently falling ill meant that she never felt able to do her job properly, while another described how he did not put his hand up for an overseas trip because he did not want to spend time away from his family.
“Despite the Challenges in Raising a Child, I Wouldn’t Change a Thing”
Junko Yoshida, a Career Mentor at Showa Women’s University Career College, spoke before and after the lunch break.
She related the story of how she had her first child in 1997 while working for a major foreign company, an experience which prompted her to start encouraging debate about how companies can support employees with young children.
“I understand what you’re going through,” she explained, “because I’ve been through it myself. But I think I am a stronger person now for having worked myself to the bone trying to balance work and family commitments. In hindsight, I wouldn’t change a thing. You always know that things will get better eventually. You just have to be patient and wait for that day to arrive.”
The next activity involved small-group discussions chaired by her, which pondered the question: How would the mobile workplace work for you? Responses included:
• You wouldn’t be able to use the mobile workplace as an excuse for not being able to answer a specific query, because in the mobile workplace, you’re in touch with everyone all the time
• It would require a greater level of trust with your colleagues
Participants were also asked to describe their ideal self in a single Japanese character, then explain their response in context to the rest of the group. The more notable entries included characters for hope (for the next generation), dignity (of being a diligent worker) and happiness (as a parent and as a member of society).
Ms. Yoshida concluded the session by describing the accumulated wisdom of daily experience, emphasizing the importance of regular self-reflection and introspection. According to her, if you take the time to pause and reflect often on your life, it will make you a vastly different person five or ten years from now.
We All Face the Same Challenges of Family Life, But the Workshop Shows a Way Forward
Participants were then all asked to stand for a “gallery walk” activity, where they used Post-It notes to jot down ideas in response to two set questions, then stick the notes to a large desk. The set questions were:
• What can individuals and the company do to promote flexible workplace arrangements such as shorter working hours and telecommuting?
• How would you like to work if there were no time or location restrictions?
Participants were encouraged to put an asterisk next to ideas or opinions that they agreed with. Responses included:
• Sometimes you actually get more done in fewer hours because you’re working in a concentrated burst
• Working from home can be more productive because you’re more relaxed
• It’s important for other employees to acknowledge the need for flexible working arrangements
Participants were then allocated roles of manager and ordinary employee for a role-play simulating an actual work situation. The aim was to identify real-life workplace issues and then devise solutions. Ideas included:
• Traditional face-to-face discussions would be replaced by improved communication via other means such as video conferencing
• Managers would need to work more closely with their staff to monitor work hours
• If something unexpected happens, you could use networks to deal with it
To conclude, the participants were asked to volunteer their observations on the day’s activities. Responses included:
• I thought women bore most of the burden of raising kids, but today showed me that men are also highly engaged. I hope Fujitsu brings in flexible working arrangements for all of us.
• I used to take sole responsibility for the children, but today’s workshop illustrates that we are all dealing with a range of challenges. I hope that today is the start of some positive developments.
Balancing the commitments of a job and raising a young family is certainly a tremendous challenge, and the mobile workplace can make a positive contribution in this space. One of the key outcomes of the workshop discussions was the shared understanding that flexible working arrangements that give individual employees the opportunity to work in their own way, without the traditional rigors and constraints of the workplace, can deliver significant benefits both for employees and the company.
Providing flexible working arrangements for employees who are caring for young children or elderly relatives in order to support them to remain in work represents a company-wide issue. Fujitsu will soon be holding a similar workshop with employees who are currently caring for relatives. The outcomes from the two workshops will be incorporated into the design principles for the mobile workplace solution, as part of a wider workplace management reform process. It is hoped that this will be rolled out to the entire Fujitsu Group by FY2016.