Xiaoqing (Maggie) Fu, University of Macau: This paper uses a unique survey data set on telework in Japan in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic to investigate the impact of telework on worker efficiency and the determinants of teleworking efficiency. The topic is timely and important because the ongoing pandemic has made teleworking a more important contribution to business continuity. This development is important in Japan in particular. Prior to the crisis, Japanese firms were reluctant to adopt teleworking even though the Japanese government has campaigned since 2016 for the introduction of telework as part of its labor reforms. The findings suggest that during the COVID-19 pandemic, telework has reduced worker efficiency by around 20 percent. Teleworking efficiency is found to be significantly and positively related to telework experience, clearly specified tasks, flexible working time, and good mental health.
In Section 2, the authors compare the rates of teleworking for several advanced economies including the EU, the United States, Australia, and Japan. Japan is found to have lower rates of teleworking than both the EU and the United States. According to their literature review, the authors find that “telework is not suitable for every worker and every occupation; it is highly dependent on the type of task and occupation.” For example, teleworking is appropriate for managers and technicians as well as for outcome-based tasks. Teleworking is found to have a positive impact on the productivity of creative tasks but a negative impact on the productivity of dull tasks. The authors find several advantages for teleworking, including promoting efficiency, improving the work–life balance, reducing business costs, and generating less air pollution and urban congestion. The main disadvantage of teleworking is that it may damage mental health, resulting in a decrease in efficiency.
The impacts of teleworking on worker efficiency may usefully be divided into short-term impacts and long-term impacts. In the short term, the exceptional conditions in which telework was performed during the COVID-19 pandemic may have reduced the efficiency of teleworkers compared with their efficiency in the pre-pandemic period. For example, Morikawa (2020) finds that a survey conducted by The Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry shows lower self-reported teleworking efficiency during the pandemic. Gorlick (2020) indicates that Nick Bloom—who in Bloom et al. (2015) noted efficiency gains from telework among Chinese call-center employees under normal circumstances—stated in a recent interview that “we are home working alongside our kids, in unsuitable spaces, with no choice and no in-office days. This will create a productivity disaster for firms.” On the contrary, based on a poll among U.S. hiring managers, Ozimek (2020) finds that managers enjoy short-term efficiency gains instead of losses due to telework. In the long term, telework may spur worker efficiency by raising worker satisfaction through proper public policies and by dialogue among social partners (OECD 2020). For example, Beckmann (2016), Beckman et al. (2017), and Godart et al. (2017) find that telework is associated with higher productivity, stronger product innovation intensities, and more intensive worker effort.
OECD (2020) suggests that the amount of telework varies widely across sectors and occupations. Telework is more common in knowledge-intensive sectors than in less-knowledge-intensive sectors. Telework is more common among high-skilled occupations than low-skilled and medium-skilled occupations. Therefore, it would be useful to further investigate teleworking efficiency in Japan in a wide range of industries and occupations to have a better understanding of this topic.
Some aspects may usefully be addressed or elaborated in the paper:
In Section 1, the authors briefly introduce the research topic but seem to misrepresent the main results as the contributions of their paper. Therefore, the authors may usefully clarify and highlight the major contributions of their paper in Section 1. In Section 3, the authors provide a brief overview of telework in Japan. To aid the readers’ understanding of the conceptual progression, this section might usefully be placed before the Literature review.
In Section 7, the authors present the findings of the study. The findings could usefully be followed by suggestions for new government and firms’ policy and implementation. For example, policies should encourage the provision of an appropriate working environment and the provision of good quality childcare.