The True Meaning of Work Style Innovation-Effective Use of Limited Human Resources and Revitalization of Innovation

Reducing the number of working hours and prohibiting overtime is not enough to achieve the goal

Work Style Innovation Is for Everyone in the Workplace

In the third session, Kunikazu Matsumoto of Fujitsu Limited introduced Fujitsu's in-house practices.

Fujitsu has been working on work style innovation for the past 8 years with more than 160,000 Group employees worldwide. The first task we tackled was to improve communication because Japanese work styles have many communication problems.

Actually, work styles in Europe and the U.S. are quite different from that of Japan. In Europe and the U.S., each individual performs his or her duties at his or her sole discretion to achieve the missions, setting his or her own goals. On the other hand, in Japan, individuals who belong to a group share the same mission and carry out tasks by dividing the labor among group members.

Therefore, information must be shared as to whether the final goal has been achieved or the progress towards the goal; this information sharing imposes a heavy burden. Japanese companies often hold meetings to share awareness, recognition, and information, which require much time and effort. So, Fujitsu has been promoting work style innovation using ICT, starting with communication improvement. However, use of ICT does not guarantee smooth implementation of work style innovation.

After all, work style innovation is for the sake of everyone in the workplace. So, it is important for everyone to raise their awareness to change their work styles in their workplaces. That said, systems and rules should not inhibit their willingness to achieve innovations. In other words, it is important to advance work style innovation by combining three elements: ICT, awareness, and systems and rules.

Let me introduce Fujitsu's specific in-house practices from three perspectives. To increase efficiency in operations, we began to share a common communication infrastructure and switched all extension phones to PCs and smartphones. Unlike one-to-one communication via conventional phones, this made it easy to hold web conferences with multiple members at the same time while looking at materials on PCs. As a result, 97% of Fujitsu employees have access to web conference tools, and they hold as many as 2 million web conferences annually. This has achieved a communication platform that can be accessed from anywhere and that visualizes know-how on information sharing. Generally, people use search engines to find answers. However, in many companies, when trying to find an answer, people often ask, "Is anyone familiar with this?"

Therefore, when searching for information on portal sites, Fujitsu made it possible to search for people as well. If the target person is at his or her desk, you can immediately make contact using a communication tool. Prior to implementing this, it used to take several weeks to obtain information, but now you can do it in a few minutes.

Fujitsu officially implemented the "Telework System" in April 2017 to enable employees to work from anywhere. We also opened satellite offices as a new third kind of workspace apart from company offices and home, so employees can work without being bound by conventional offices. The telework system is now used by 12,000 employees, and the work-from-home system is used by 70% of female employees who are raising children.

Fujitsu is also promoting work style innovation by applying Fujitsu Human Centric AI Zinrai technology. Suppose, for example, that you are attempting to visualize your subordinates' work. If you ask a subordinate, "How is the task going?" that means the visualization is not yet successful. At Fujitsu, AI supports creating graphs to visualize "subordinates' activities" and "problems in advancing tasks," and such data is utilized for management and subordinate education. If management-level employees notice problems in the field, field employees can adjust their behavior.

Work style innovation is innovation in the field. I hope everyone promotes work style innovation in each workplace by identifying their "ideal work styles," "optimal job satisfaction," and "creative work environments."

Japan's Slow Work Style Innovation - How to Break Through?

After the sessions, a panel discussion began. The first theme was "social trends in work style innovation." Dr. Yamamoto explained the current situation for work style innovation: "Half of the employees in Japanese companies responded that their work styles had not changed even after implementing work style innovation. However, the theme of focus has been significantly biased towards curbing long working hours." Complementing Dr. Yamamoto, Mr. Ito added his opinion from the perspective of human resource recruitment: "Many companies are struggling with recruiting, so they work on overtime issues to avoid bad reputations as sweatshops." He also referred to the impact of the shortage of human resources on IT investment: "Previously, return on investment was important, but today, an increasing number of companies invest in ICT to address the shortage of workers."

The next theme was "how employees should take interest in work style innovation." Mr. Ito stated: "Work style innovation is the way in which individual employees come to terms with their workplaces. Since companies' average lifespans are shrinking, employees have a sense of crisis. In particular, young people are very conscious of building their career skills at their current job so that they can continue to work by making full use of such skills even after leaving their companies. Companies must also consider how they can help build career skills that will be useful in their lives as companies."

Next, Mr. Ito introduced his experience in the U.S.: "It is said that companies can easily dismiss employees in the U.S. However, if companies do such a thing, no one will want to work for them." So, he struggled to keep good employees from quitting and focused on employee education. As a result of providing education that was useful for changing jobs, employees conversely realized what a good company it was to work for and the employee retention rate increased.

With respect to the theme of "what are the expectations for ICT in work style innovation," Mr. Ito suggested that companies should learn about the relationship between smartphones and young people. He said, "Once we could only communicate by physically meeting, but today, we can communicate wherever we are with smartphones. For example, we can have a discussion even while taking a bath. The point is how to motivate such young people. In the past, the president's decisions were believed to be the best because the president had the largest amount of information. Now, it is sometimes the case that a single employee may have more information than the president. Gekokujo (juniors dominating seniors) in information is occurring in companies. Therefore, if companies can motivate and utilize young people who are skilled at collecting information, such companies can grow strong."

Dr. Yamamoto: "If ICT increases labor productivity, companies can reduce routine operations and shift resources to creative operations. Creative work means work that enables workers to decide how and when to work. I think that is essential for worthwhileness of working. I believe that visualizing the ratio between routine and creative tasks as well as increasing the percentage of creative tasks will lead to higher worthwhileness of working and motivation."

In response to Dr. Yamamoto's comments, Mr. Ito said, "Speaking of job satisfaction, it is also important to eliminate tasks that lower employee motivation as much as possible," and he introduced an initiative in the U.S. In Japan, employees often struggle to prepare materials for board meetings, but in the U.S., employees will quit if forced to do such tasks. So, how can they manage without preparing materials? This is not an issue because executives have the skills to understand the content of raw data just by looking at it.

Mr. Ito said, "In the U.S., unlike Japan, it is said that people who cannot understand raw business data should not become executives. Understanding raw data is part of professionalism. Even if we cannot do the same, unless we introduce tools to make raw data easier to understand and eliminate the burden of preparing meeting materials, we cannot address the low motivation."
Matsumoto agreed, saying, "You mean 'eliminate wasteful work and concentrate on creative work,' right?" He concluded the panel discussion thus: "The essence of work style innovation is to grow the company by boosting employee morale."

  • Hiroshi Yamamoto Professor, School of Business and Graduate School of Business, Aoyama Gakuin University
    (Specialty: Human Resource Management)
    Ph.D., Business Administration
  • Chiaki Ito Former Representative Director and Vice Chairman, Fujitsu Limited;
    Outside Director of Hitachi Zosen Corporation, Zensho Holdings Co., Ltd., and Obic Business Consultants, Co., Ltd.
  • Kunikazu Matsumoto Evangelist (Work Style Innovation)
    Fujitsu Limited