Examining the effect of COVID-19 on knowledge workers in Australia and Japan.
By Marta Chmielowicz
The COVID-19 pandemic forced individuals, teams, and organisations around the world to rapidly adapt to new restrictions on work. To understand the impact of these changes on the workforce, Atlassian and Paper Giant conducted a research study of 5,000 workers in five countries: Australia, the U.S., Japan, Germany, and France.
The study, Reworking Work: Understanding the Rise of Work Anywhere, shows that the disruption of COVID-19 and remote work have tested employees’ resilience and stability, changing the lives of all employees. All in all, there’s been a real loss of time spent on the joy and pleasure of living—44% of people say they have spent less time on personal pursuits.
The shift to remote work has also demanded more from workers. A range of work tasks have become significantly more important to employees, including:
- effectively communicating with others in the company (46%);
- acting with empathy and caring for others in the company (45%); and
- applying professional knowledge or training to solve problems (42%).
Whilst all employees described the physical, emotional, and professional shifts, they were forced to manage in order to remain successful, these shifts differed across countries.
Generally, the research suggests that Australians have had a positive remote working experience. Most (68%) experienced improved job satisfaction and 70% believe their work-life balance has improved since the transition. This could be due to the fact that Australians were more likely than other employees in other regions to have a dedicated working space (70% versus 63%). However, due to their social culture, they were also more likely to miss the energy of their office (77%) than the total sample (49%).
Most Australian employees (73%) also experienced increased satisfaction with their company leadership, compared to 54% of the total sample, suggesting that Australian leaders are doing right by their employees during this time. They are comparatively optimistic about their career prospects, showing less concern about job security; 64% believed their job security had improved over this period, compared to just 35% of the total sample. Even those in industries strongly impacted by recent events believed losing their jobs would lead to new, exciting opportunities.
Japan’s COVID-19 experience differed considerably from the other countries studied in that broad, economy-wide, government mandated lockdown measures were never implemented. Instead, businesses and individuals were asked to display “jishuku,” or self-restraint, and avoid places where close community contact was unavoidable. This meant that Japan never experienced the long-term disruption currently affecting other regions—and many workers are already back in the office.
Due to the relatively small size of Japanese homes and the difficulty of adapting analog, paper-based business processes to a remote climate, Japanese employees largely found working from home more difficult than employees in other regions (44% versus 27%). Forty-eight per cent of people did not believe their organizations were adequately prepared for remote working, compared to 29% of the total sample.
The ability to “read the air” or “kuuki o yomu”—something that is deeply ingrained in Japanese culture—may have been a struggle in the transition to digital forms of communication. Furthermore, 39% of people had no flexibility over when they worked, compared to 28% of the total sample, resulting in poor work-life balance (31% versus 44%).
Results show that company leadership was also lacking when adapting to these changes, with only 18% reporting that they were more satisfied with their company leadership, compared to 41% of the total sample. Only 19% of Japanese employees had greater trust in their company to do the right thing, compared to 43% of the total sample.
These results suggest that the office will continue to play a dominant role in Japanese work life.