Sophians Talk about Japan and the World

Do Your Usual Work Wherever You Like—Revitalizing the Whole of Japan through Teleworking

Yuri Tazawa
(CEO, Y's Staff Corporation President, Telework Management Inc.)

The "Accomplishments" I Achieved at Sophia University

Yuri Tazawa CEO, Y's Staff Corporation President, Telework Management Inc.

As a high school student I dreamed of becoming an English teacher. The reason was very straightforward, actually. I really admired my English teacher, so I thought of as many questions as possible with the sole purpose of talking to the teacher, and as a result my grade improved along with it, so I came to enjoy studying English.

I wanted to go and live in Tokyo at least once, and if possible I wanted to study another foreign language in addition to English—a language that other people didn't learn. When I looked into it, I found Spanish was spoken in up to 20 countries, and was said to be easy to pronounce, even for Japanese. So I selected Sophia University's Department of Hispanic Studies as my first choice for university. To be honest it was quite a stretch for me, but luckily I won a place.

The campus was in the middle of the city and was very cosmopolitan: the students around me spoke English fluently and their clothes were sophisticated. Coming from Nara as I did, it was a real culture shock. But I would never have encountered this new culture if I hadn't taken the plunge and left my home town. Partly because it was a catholic university, many of the teachers and students seemed pure-hearted and trustworthy, and the small size of the university meant that it was possible to get to know everybody really well. I think I was lucky to have an experience I couldn't have had at another university.

Well, I could hardly be described as a high-flier in terms of my academic results, but in the Department of Hispanic Studies at Sophia I accomplished three things that I call my "accomplishments."

The first was earning an English teacher's license. Actually, I rather stupidly failed to realize until after I'd joined the department that it wasn't possible to get an English teacher's license as part of the usual curriculum. When I found out I felt crushed as you would expect, but I pulled myself together to achieve my dream and carried through with what I had originally intended by taking 60 whole units of extra non-credit subjects.

My second accomplishment was the fact that I managed to graduate without any problems even though I was in the table tennis club. I had been told that Hispanic Studies was known mainly for being an extremely demanding department, and it would be impossible to participate in a sports club at the same time. Nonetheless, I eventually became captain of the women's table tennis club and ended up boosting Sophia from a position in the sixth division at the bottom of the Kanto League right up to the top of the fourth division.

And my third accomplishment was…finding a husband in my class! When I look back now, it really does seem that a lot of living was packed into those four years.

Japanese Society Has Finally Caught Up

Yuri Tazawa CEO, Y's Staff Corporation President, Telework Management Inc.

The path to English teaching that had opened up for me after my first accomplishment was abruptly closed again when I failed the examination required for employment as a teacher. My dream shattered, I took a job with an electronics manufacturer. But it was that experience that led to me becoming the person I am now—which is what makes life so unpredictable and fascinating.

I joined the company in 1985, exactly the same year that Japan's revised legislation on equal employment opportunities for men and women came into being. But I was forced to give up work after only six years due to my husband's job relocation and the birth of our child. Yet I wanted to work and the company wanted me to work as well…the situation just seemed so absurd, and that was what spurred me to get involved in facilitating and promoting teleworking.

The "tele" in teleworking means "distant." In other words, teleworking is an arrangement that enables people to be at home or somewhere other than a company's premises, while performing the same work as usual to the same standards of quality as if they were in the office.

I started by launching Y's Staff Corporation in 1998. It's a unique organization that uses ICT networks to connect women who, like me, were forced to give up work despite having the ability and the desire to continue. We accept orders for a whole variety of jobs, and for each one we put together a team that can make the best use of workers' individual skills.

However, the number of staff registered with us never seemed to get beyond about 120. I realized that in order to get more people enjoying the benefits of teleworking, we needed to get companies to adopt it proactively.

It just so happened that in 2007 the Japanese government announced an action plan to double the teleworking population. So in 2008 I set up my second company, Telework Management Inc., which provides companies with consulting services relating to the introduction of teleworking.

People told me I was being foolhardy. They said they could understand what I was trying to do, but there was no market or demand for it.

They were right. Even more than 20 years after the legislation on equal employment opportunities had gone into effect, corporate thinking and structures remained unchanged. So I set about building up a track record and trust by winning work on government projects, while at the same time continuing to spread telework through speeches and writing, as it were a "mission". But it was only a year or two ago that companies finally started to actually approach us with requests for consulting services.

Incidentally, the company's Tokyo office is within a stone's throw of the Sophia campus—I don't know anywhere else in Tokyo apart from Yotsuya, you see!

Teleworking Can Transform Japan's Rural Communities

Yuri Tazawa CEO, Y's Staff Corporation President, Telework Management Inc.

Of course, it's not only women who can enjoy the benefits of teleworking. For example, my company has staff members who are working hard while living their lives in hospital beds due to severe chronic illness.

And from now on, we can expect teleworking to play a powerful role in the revitalization of rural communities. The conventional methods of invigorating local communities rely on creating new industries and attracting companies, but clearly these methods haven't been as successful as anticipated. Instead, the focus should be on attracting talented people who can live in rural communities while at the same time working for companies in Tokyo and elsewhere.

This will lead to growing populations, greater consumption, and higher tax revenues in rural areas, reenergizing the communities there. Workers will be able to do their jobs in their hometown, or wherever else they may want to live, and can choose the best environment for bringing up their children. And companies can also be expected to benefit: they will be able to appoint capable personnel regardless of whether or not those personnel can commute to the office, their risks will be diversified, and they will be able to assimilate local perspectives.

Following my recommendation, Japan's Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications started to support initiatives such as these during last fiscal year, naming the concept "hometown telework." I'm personally involved with initiatives in the town of Sharicho in Hokkaido: in Sharicho's case the local government renovated the former legal affairs bureau building, installing ICT infrastructure, and a large number of major companies started to use the building for their satellite offices. The catchphrase for the initiative is "Your usual job, but in Shiretoko" (Shiretoko is the area of scenic natural beauty in which Sharicho is located). It's a great catchphrase, don't you think?

When it comes to teleworking, companies worry about whether employees will actually work properly if they're out of sight, while employees worry about whether they might be forced to work endlessly long hours, and these concerns appear to be deep-rooted. But issues such as these can easily be resolved if employees are managed using appropriate ICT-based systems.

Well, my once-shattered dream of being a teacher has recently started to be revived a little. I was chosen as a member of the board of education for Hokkaido, and not being content to just observe what's happening in classrooms, I am now giving classes on ICT and career management as a visiting teacher.

I hope that by the time the children I have taught go out into society as adults, the way Japanese people work will have been transformed, and I hope that those young adults will then continue to make changes for the better.

Yuri Tazawa CEO, Y's Staff Corporation President, Telework Management Inc.
Yuri Tazawa
CEO, Y's Staff Corporation
President, Telework Management Inc.

Graduated from Sophia University Faculty of Foreign Studies in 1985
Yuri Tazawa was born in Nara prefecture, and lives in Hokkaido. After graduating from Sophia University she worked in PC product planning at Sharp Corporation, but was forced to give up work when she had a baby and her husband had to relocate for work. Wanting to work even if she was bringing up children or living in a rural area, she continued to work from home as a freelance writer on PC-related topics, at the same time raising three children and moving house five times due to her husband's transfers.
In 1998, deciding that she wanted to create a company where people could do proper work even if they were working from home, she set up Y's Staff Corporation in Kitami-shi in Hokkaido, where her husband had been transferred. The company receives contracts for a wide variety of IT-related work, which it outsources to around 120 members of staff living all over Japan who work as teams, based on the Net Office concept.
In 2008 she established Telework Management Inc. in order to promote flexible working styles throughout Japanese society. With an office in Tokyo, the company helps other companies to introduce teleworking and implements a large number of national and local government projects to popularize teleworking, among other initiatives.
She also gives speeches and lectures about teleworking as a flexible way of working free of the constraints of time and place, while widely disseminating information and promoting teleworking via media including her blog and Facebook.

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Yuri Tazawa CEO, Y's Staff Corporation President, Telework Management Inc.

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