Owning a dog in Japan can be tricky – the pets aren’t usually welcomed in restaurants or cafes, and taking them on public transport means zipping them up inside a carrier.
Yet, at an office in Kawasaki, near Tokyo, staff members with dogs are being encouraged to bring their furry friends to work as part of a trial to seek new ways of flexible working.
Tech giant Fujitsu opened its specialized “dog office” in July this year. Separated from a standard office and operating on a trial basis until the end of 2022, it has workstations for three staff members and space for up to six dogs at a time, as well as stain-proof carpets and a range of pet supplies ready at hand.
Communications staff Yuka Hatagaki is one of the employees taking advantage of the new setup. Ever since the COVID-19 struck, Hatagaki had been remote working entirely from home, but the new dog office has enticed her to go in a few times each month along with her five-year-old Maltese-poodle cross, Noel.
“Communication got more difficult as remote working became a norm. So I thought it would be a great place here (in the office) – to be able to come and communicate with other people with the help of our dogs (as an icebreaker),” the 30-year-old told Reuters.
While Japan saw an increase in remote working during the early stages of the pandemic, the nation’s employers were relatively reluctant to adapt. A 2021 report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) found that the number of Japanese workers carrying out their jobs remotely climbed to 28 percent from 10 percent in 2020.
Despite nearly a threefold increase, Japan’s figure remained relatively low compared to other developed nations including Australia, France and the UK, which saw 47 percent of staff teleworking in that same year, the OECD said.
Japanese employers may also be pushing back on the trend towards more flexible working, analysts said. An online survey of 1,100 Japanese workers carried out by the Japan Productivity Center in July 2022 found that rates of remote working were falling particularly rapidly among those in their 20s and 30s, with an average of 16.2 percent able to telework. That percentage was down from the 18.5 percent recorded in a similar survey from January 2022.
Fellow “dog office” user Mayumi Inoue, who became a pet owner during COVID, said turning up for work with her six-month-old Pomeranian provided some upsides for the animal as well.
“Compared to being at home, your dog gets to meet its canine friends and people, so that is a good incentive for them too,” Inoue said, while holding on her dog named Toramaru in her arms.
While employees like Hatagaki and Inoue were drawn back to the office by the experience of working alongside their dogs, Fujitsu said the purpose of the trial project was not to get workers back inside the building and the company has no plans to abandon the hybrid working model it adopted when the pandemic hit Japan.
“Ever since COVID, our work and personal lives have gone through enormous changes at an incredible pace. With that situation in mind, we are always thinking about what kind of changes are needed,” the head of the company’s work style strategy office, Mitsuya Akamatsu, said.
“We can’t say whether we will stick with this style of working alongside our pets in the long term because it’s still a trial, but personally I think it would be good to see it spread across our society,” he added.